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Effects of prescribed fires on soil properties: a review

Author(s): Meritxell Alcañiz, Luis R. Outeiro, Marcos Francos, Xavier Ubeda
Year Published: 2018

Soils constitute one of the most valuable resources on earth, especially because soil is renewable on human time scales. During the 20th century, a period marked by a widespread rural exodus and land abandonment, fire suppression policies were adopted facilitating the accumulation of fuel in forested areas, exacerbating the effects of wildfires, leading to severe degradation of soils. Prescribed fires emerged as an option for protecting forests and their soils from wildfires through the reduction of fuels levels. However such fires can serve other objectives, including stimulating the regeneration of a particular plant species, maintaining biological diversity or as a tool for recovering grasslands in encroached lands. This paper reviews studies examining the short- and long- term impacts of prescribed fires on the physical, chemical and biological soil properties; in so doing, it provides a summary of the benefits and drawbacks of this technique, to help determine if prescribed fires can be useful for managing the landscape. From the study conducted, we can affirm that prescribed fires affects soil properties but differ greatly depending on soil initial characteristics, vegetation or type of fire. Also, it is possible to see that soil's physical and biological properties are more strongly affected by prescribed fires than are its chemical properties. Finally, we conclude that prescribed fires clearly constitute a disturbance on the environment (positive, neutral or negative depending on the soil property studied), but most of the studies reviewed report a good recovery and their effects could be less pronounced than those of wildfires because of the limited soil heating and lower fire intensity and severity.

Citation: Alcañiz, Meritxell; Outeiro, Luis R.; Francos, Marcos; Ubeda, Xavier. 2018. Effects of prescribed fires on soil properties: a review. Science of The Total Environment 613-614:944-957. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2017.09.144
Topic(s): Fire Effects, Ecological - First Order, Soil Heating, Ecological - Second Order, Soils
Ecosystem(s): None
Document Type: Book or Chapter or Journal Article
NRFSN number: 17247
FRAMES RCS number: 24980
Record updated: Apr 3, 2018