We know that there are some really hardy microorganisms out there that can survive in deep space and deep underground, for example, but a group of microbes identified in a new study might be the most impressively robust yet.
Viruses and bacteria have not only survived the 2016 Soberanes megafire in California''s redwood tanoak forests, but their lives were also successfully maintained as a result of the fire. Understanding how and why this situation may assist recovery efforts for wildfires'' devastating impacts.
Microbes who cling to life and later flourish are genetically linked, a finding that should provide further insight into why these forms of life are capable of making it through the burning.
Microbes obtained from fire-burned soil. (Jenna Maddox/UCR)
"They have shared adaptive abilities that enable them to respond to fire," says mycologist Sydney Glassman of the University of California, Riverside.
The soil samples were collected from plots established in the mid-2000s to investigate the outbreak of a sudden oak death; they collected them for the first time in 2013, and they compared their contents to samples obtained shortly after the fire in 2016.
The fire impacted not all of the established plots, so the plot owner even had access to a controlled control plot for comparison.
Overall, fungi species wealth was down by up to 70 percent, while bacterial species decreased by up to 52 percent per sample. Nevertheless, some bacterial groups, including Actinobacteria (which helps plant material decompose), and Firmicutes (which helps plant growth and controls plant pathogens), ended up prospering.
The heat-resistant Basidioascus yeast has experienced a significant increase. The yeast degrades several components of wood, including lignin (the tough part of plant cell walls that keep them organized and protected).
Penicillium is another species that went quite well out of the fire, and the research group is now determined how these various microbes increased in number. It''s likely that different types of microbes used different methods.
"Penicillium is likely to benefit from ''dead bodies'','' according to Glassman.
Megafires, the term used to describe the historically significant, large-scale fires of the previous years that are becoming more intense and covering a larger area, are occurring more often as climate fluctuations push temperatures up and increase snowmelt.
Wildfires are a natural component of many ecosystems, but they often spread across an area swiftly, thereby assisting in revitalizing the soil, clearing away some dead plants, and assist others with their reproduction.
Megafires, however, result in significant ecosystem damage. The Soberanes megafire, for example, ended up destroying roughly 132,127 acres or 53,470 hectares of land.
The soil and their microbiomes react to megafires at the moment, partly because it''s so difficult to predict where the flames will spring up and then travel to.
In 2016, the Soberanes megafire (CalFire)
The next step for experts is to follow these fungi and bacteria''s survival strategies and figure out how they may be applied to restoration efforts that have reintroduced forests.
"It''s not likely that plants may recover from megafires without benefitable fungi that supply roots with nutrients, or bacteria that transform extra carbon and nitrogen in post-fire soil," says Glassman. "Understanding the microbes is essential to any restoration effort."
The study has been published in Molecular Ecology.