In the wake of the 2017 North Bay fires, the golden hills of Santa Rosa, California, were unrecognisable. Smoky, seared and buried under ash, the landscape appeared desolate, save for some ghostly, blackened – but still alive – oak trees. For Stanford University graduate student, Gabriel Smith, whose family lives in Santa Rosa, the devastation was heartbreaking, but it also offered a unique scientific opportunity: a natural experiment on the effects of wildfires on the microbes that live in soil, which Smith studies in the form of fungi.
So, Smith and his mother spent his winter break collecting soil samples from burned areas near trees in Santa Rosa’s Trione-Annadel State Park and Hood Mountain Regional Park and Preserve. For comparison, they also gathered samples from unburned locations. MORE
Header image: Gabriella Selva.