For Educators

Order Products

Login / My Account


Don't Judge a Soil by Its Color: Exploring Forest Soil Following a Wildfire

This article is from Issue Wildland Fire 2 - Vol. 13 No. 1.

* Note: All editions of the Natural Inquirer starting with Volume 5 and including future editions require the newest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader 6.0 in order to be downloaded. We have upgraded in order to ensure greater accessibility to PDF files. Please click on the following link if you need to upgrade your Adobe Acrobat reader: Upgrade now to Adobe Reader 6.0. It is a free upgrade.

When a wildfire burns across a forest, logs and stumps on the ground may completely burn up. When this happens the soil beneath and near the logs and stumps is intensely heated. These soils, not surprisingly, are called “red soils” by soil scientists. The scientists in this study wanted to answer two questions: (1) What are the differences, if any, between the growth of nonnative invasive species and the growth of native species in red and black soils following a wildfire? (2) What happens to mycorrhizal fungi following a wildfire?

Welcome to the Wildland Fire 2 edition!

Note to Educators

Journal Lesson Plan 1

Journal Lesson Plan 2


Who or What Am I?

Reflection Section Answer Guide

Additional Resources for this Article:
Meet the scientists that contributed to this article:

"Science Topics" covered in this article:
  • Earth Science
  • Life Science
  • People and Science

"Thinking About Science Themes" covered in this article:
To become a research scientist, you must attend college and earn a series of academic degrees. After 4 or more years in college, you could earn a bachelorís (ˈbach-lərz) degree. A masterís degree follows, usually after 2 to 3 more years of study. Finally, you may earn a doctoral degree, commonly called a Ph.D. (Ph.D. stands for Doctor of Philosophy (fə lš sə fē)). It could take up to 4 more years to earn a Ph.D. For every year of study, a student becomes more expert in a particular area of study. One can become an expert in almost any areaófrom art to zoology. To earn a masters or doctoral degree, most students must do a research study. For a masterís degree, this study is called a thesis (ˈthē-səs). The research in this study was done by a student earning her masterís degree. The student learned that asking research questions and solving them was fun for her. If you are interested in learning new things, you might discover that you like to ask and solve research questions too!
Specific "Thinking About Science" Themes:
  • Characteristics of Scientists
  • The Scientific Process

"Thinking About Environmental Themes" covered in this article:
Do you ever think about what happens underground? The soil is a world about which we seldom think. It is a busy place, full of microscopic organisms, including bacteria and fungi. Bacteria and fungi are decomposers. Decomposers break down dead and decaying material. They recycle once-living and nonliving material and make it available for other organisms to use. Bacteria live everywhere on Earth where life is possible. You have probably seen the fruits of some fungi on the ground or growing on tree trunks. Did you know that some fungi live on the underground roots of plants? These fungi, called mycorrhizal fungi, have an interesting relationship with plant roots. These fungi need plant roots to live, and plant roots need the fungi. Plants create carbon as they photosynthesize, and some of the carbon is sent to the plantís roots. Plant roots then provide carbon to the fungi. The fungi help the plant take in mineral nutrients, such as phosphorus, from the soil. In this study, the scientists were interested in learning about what happens to mycorrhizal fungi after a forest fire. They wanted to know what happens when a fire burns large pieces of wood on the ground, causing the soil to be intensely heated. They also wondered how this would affect the growth of new plants following the wildfire.
Specific "Thinking About the Environment" Themes:
  • Fungus
  • Wildland Fire

NSE Standards covered in this article:
  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry (A)
  • Diversity and adaptations of organisms (C)
  • Natural hazards (F)
  • Nature of science (G)
  • Populations and ecosystems (C)
  • Populations, resources and environments (F)
  • Reproduction and heredity (C)
  • Risks and benefits (F)
  • Science as a human endeavor (G)
  • Structure and function in living systems (C)
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry (A)