Fungi and Fire: Studying How Prescribed Burns Affect the Forest
Prescribed burning, also called controlled burning, is a widely used forest management technique in Northwest Arkansas. The fire burns away much of the litter layer (dead leaves and small twigs) on the forest floor. Logs and other pieces of dead wood can be burned to some extent, but the usual effect of the fire is to leave at least the larger pieces charred.
The ecological effects of prescribed burning on forests are not completely understood because the appropriate studies have never been carried out. Steven Stephenson, a research professor in the Department of Biological Sciences and an expert in the study of myxomycetes (slime molds), is working with two graduate students to research the effects of prescribed burning on the fungi associated with litter layer and dead wood. Both students, coincidently, are from countries where there are not a lot of forests: Rajaa Al-Anbagi, who is studying the fungi associated with the litter layer, is from Iraq; while Nawaf Alshammari, who is studying wood-decay fungi, is from Saudi Arabia.
A major part of the research they are carrying out involves finding out just what species of fungi occur in the forests of Northwest Arkansas. “There is simply not a lot of baseline data,” Stephenson said. Both students are using molecular techniques to identify fungi, he added, and from all indications some of the fungi they are working with are likely to be species new to science.