Fire effects on temperate forest soil C and N storage

TitleFire effects on temperate forest soil C and N storage
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2011
AuthorsNave L, Vance ED, Swanston CW, Curtis PS
JournalEcological Applications
Pagination1189 - 1201
Date Published06/2011

Temperate forest soils store globally significant amounts of carbon (C) and nitrogen (N). Understanding how soil pools of these two elements change in response to disturbance and management is critical to maintaining ecosystem services such as forest productivity, greenhouse gas mitigation, and water resource protection. Fire is one of the principal disturbances acting on forest soil C and N storage and is also the subject of enormous management efforts. In the present article, we use meta-analysis to quantify fire effects on temperate forest soil C and N storage. Across a combined total of 468 soil C and N response ratios from 57 publications (concentrations and pool sizes), fire had significant overall effects on soil C (−26%) and soil N (−22%). The impacts of fire on forest floors were significantly different from its effects on mineral soils. Fires reduced forest floor C and N storage (pool sizes only) by an average of 59% and 50%, respectively, but the concentrations of these two elements did not change. Prescribed fires caused smaller reductions in forest floor C and N storage (−46% and −35%) than wildfires (−67% and −69%), and the presence of hardwoods also mitigated fire impacts. Burned forest floors recovered their C and N pools in an average of 128 and 103 years, respectively. Among mineral soils, there were no significant changes in C or N storage, but C and N concentrations declined significantly (−11% and −12%, respectively). Mineral soil C and N concentrations were significantly affected by fire type, with no change following prescribed burns, but significant reductions in response to wildfires. Geographic variation in fire effects on mineral soil C and N storage underscores the need for region-specific fire management plans, and the role of fire type in mediating C and N shifts (especially in the forest floor) indicates that averting wildfires through prescribed burning is desirable from a soils perspective.