Wildfire impacts on fungal communities of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska

Rebecca Hewitt
Rebecca Hewitt
Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, Alaska
project abstract

Rising temperatures in tundra drive heightened wildfire activity, profoundly affecting fungal communities. Recent research highlights the significant influence fungi have on ecosystem carbon balance in northern ecosystems. Fungi impact primary production through plant nutrient acquisition, soil organic matter formation, and C losses via priming. Understanding post-fire shifts in fungal diversity is crucial for predicting wildfire consequences and climate feedbacks. The Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta in Alaska remains relatively understudied. By analyzing fungal diversity across unburned, recently burned, and historically burned sites, we can assess the effects of fire on fungal communities. Initial findings suggest that shrub abundance increases in the first decade following fire, potentially favoring ectomycorrhizal and ericoid mycorrhizal fungi as host plants respond positively to low-intensity burning with strong impacts on soil carbon accumulation and cycling rates. Building on an ongoing investigation of wildfire impacts on components of ecosystem carbon balance, including fluxes of greenhouse gasses and carbon stored in plant biomass and soils, this study will reveal fungal taxonomic identities that may be important regulators of these ecosystem dynamics. Our study will provide new insights into the connections between fungal identities and biogeochemical processing in a critical yet understudied tundra region and support training opportunities for undergraduate students.