Fire events in agricultural soils can modify not only soil properties but also the structure of soil microbial communities, especially in soils containing high concentrations of potentially toxic elements (PTEs). The recolonization of burned soils can in fact favor the proliferation of certain microorganisms, more adaptable to post-fire soil conditions and higher PTE availability, over others. In this study, we simulated with laboratory experiments the microbial recolonization of an agricultural soil containing high Cr concentrations after heating at 500 °C for 30 min, to mimic the burning of crop residues. Changes in soil properties and Cr speciation were assessed, as well as soil microbial structure by means of 16S rRNA gene sequencing. Both altered soil conditions and increased Cr availability, especially Cr(VI), appeared to be responsible for the reduction in species diversity in heated soils and the proliferation of Firmicutes. Indeed, already after 3 days from the heat treatment, Firmicutes increased from 14% to 60% relative abundance. In particular, Paenibacillus was the most abundant genus identified after the simulation, with an average relative abundance of 40%. These bacteria are known to be good fire-responders and Cr-tolerant. These results could be useful to identify bacterial strains to be used as bioindicators of altered environments and for the recovery of fire-impacted polluted sites.
Keywords: 16S rRNA sequencing; Firmicutes; Paenibacillus; bioinformatics; hexavalent chromium; soil degradation; soil restoration.