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Water quality, substratum and biotic responses of five central Idaho (USA) streams during the first year following the Mortar Creek fire

Author(s): G. Wayne Minshall, James T. Brock, Douglas A. Andrews, Christopher T. Robinson
Year Published: 2001

The Mortar Creek Fire burned 26 000 ha of mixed-conifer Rocky Mountain forest in July-August 1979. Changes in burn stream conditions were examined relative to reference streams for various ecological factors on two to six occasions, from October 1979 to August 1980. Factors included major ions and nutrients, suspended and benthic particulate matter, periphyton (algae), and macroinvertebrates. Elevated levels of most dissolved chemicals in the burn streams were evident soon after the fire and again during spring runoff. However, there were no major disruptions in the relative composition of cations (and presumably of anions also) in the burn streams during the study. Concentration (mg/L) and load (g/s) of some constituents were higher (e.g. NO 3 -N) and of others (e.g. Ca) were lower in the burn than in the reference streams during spring runoff, depending on whether they were normally under biological or geological control, respectively. Suspended sediment and particulate organic matter generally were higher in burn streams, especially during snow-melt runoff or following heavy rain storms. Benthic organic matter was higher in burn streams and was mainly charcoal, compared to the usual leaf litter found in the reference streams. Fine sediments increased and periphyton decreased in the burn streams. The fire increased the sensitivity of the burn streams to more routine smaller-scale disturbances, such as rainstorms, which had major impacts on the burn streams but not on the reference streams. The macroinvertebrate assemblage showed little direct effect from the fire but was severely altered in composition and abundance by the subsequent runoff, scouring, and channel alteration initiated by spring runoff. The burn streams showed considerable individuality in their response to fire depending on the particular set of conditions to which they were exposed.

Citation: Minshall, G. Wayne; Brock, James T.; Andrews, Douglas A.; Robinson, Christopher T. 2001. Water quality, substratum and biotic responses of five central Idaho (USA) streams during the first year following the Mortar Creek fire. International Journal of Wildland Fire. 10(2): 185-199.
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - First Order, Fire Intensity / Burn Severity, Ecological - Second Order, Aquatic Life, Soils, Water, Fire Regime
Ecosystem(s): Subalpine dry spruce-fir forest, Montane dry mixed-conifer forest, Riparian woodland/shrubland, Ponderosa pine woodland/savanna, Aspen woodland, Sagebrush steppe
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 11442
FRAMES RCS number: 9010
Record updated: May 10, 2018