Publication in: Spring 2023 Issue

Assessing the Effects of Prescribed Fires on Mycorrhizal Fungi in Upland Mixed Oak-Pine Forests at DuPont State Recreational Forest, NC
Ari Puentes
Faculty Mentor(s):
Jonathan Horton and Graham Reynolds
Abstract / Summary:
Fungi are often overlooked when planning forest management practices such as prescribed fires, but fungal communities are incredibly important to ecosystem health. Almost all trees have been found to rely on mutualistic fungal symbionts, known as mycorrhizal fungi. This study investigated the effects of prescribed fire on mycorrhizal fungi in Dupont State Recreational Forest in Western North Carolina. Prescribed burn units in mixed oak-pine communities that differed only in the time since they were last burned (unburned, 1, 2, and 13 years), were surveyed monthly from June to September 2022. Surveys consisted of photographing, counting, collecting specimens, and taking notes on all mycorrhizal fungi found within the three 0.1 ha2 research plots per burn unit. Field collection was done by citizen scientists from the Asheville Mushroom Club and UNC Asheville student volunteers. The collected specimens were brought back to the lab for identification and detailed descriptions before they were preserved. Shannon- Weaver diversity index, species richness, and community composition were calculated and compared between burn units. There were no statistically significant differences in any of the diversity indices between the burn units, though the recently burned areas had higher diversity and higher richness than the unburned ones. There were different communities present in the recently burned and unburned areas indicating that certain species react more to fire than others. These preliminary data encourage further research so that forest management methods can take the mycorrhizal fungal communities into account. Specimens with DNA barcodes were deposited into the newly created UNC Asheville Fungarium. This information was digitized on the UNC Asheville Fungarium Mycology Collection Portal (MyCoPortal), and uploaded to iNaturalist. The results of this project provide many resources for citizen scientists, students, and researchers to utilize for continued mycological research.
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