Variation in soil enzyme activity as a function of vegetation amount, type, and spatial structure in fire-prone Mediterranean shrublands

Angeles Garcia Mayor, Silvana B. Goirán, Ramón V. Vallejo, Susana Bautista

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14 Citations (Scopus)


Fire-prone Mediterranean shrublands may be seriously threatened by land degradation due to progressive opening of the vegetation cover driven by increasing drought and fire recurrence. However, information about the consequences of this opening process for critical ecosystem functions is scant. In this work, we studied the influence of vegetation amount, type, and spatial pattern in the variation of extracellular soil enzyme activity (acid phosphatase, β-glucosidase, and urease) in fire-prone shrublands in eastern Spain. Soil was sampled in vegetation-patch and open-interpatch microsites in 15 shrubland sites affected by large wildfires in 1991. On average, the activities of the three enzymes were 1.5 (β-glucosidase and urease) to 1.7 (acid phosphatase) times higher in soils under vegetation patches than in adjacent interpatches. In addition, phosphatase activity for both microsites significantly decreased with the fragmentation of the vegetation. This result was attributed to a lower influence of roots -the main source of acid phosphatase- in the bigger interpatches of the sites with lower patch cover, and to feedbacks between vegetation pattern, redistribution of resources, and soil quality during post-fire vegetation dynamics. Phosphatase activity was also 1.2 times higher in patches of resprouter plants than in patches of non-resprouters, probably due to the faster post-fire recovery and older age of resprouter patches in these fire-prone ecosystems. The influence on the studied enzymes of topographic and climatic factors acting at the landscape scale was insignificant. According to our results, variations in the cover, pattern, and composition of vegetation patches may have profound impacts on soil enzyme activity and associated nutrient cycling processes in fire-prone Mediterranean shrublands, particularly in those related to phosphorus.

Original languageEnglish
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Publication statusPublished - 5 Apr 2016


  • Canopy openness
  • Land degradation
  • Microsite
  • Nutrient cycling function
  • Post-fire regeneration strategy
  • Vegetation pattern
  • Wildfires

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