Recovery after fire
Mulching with forest residues has proved to be highly effective in reducing post‐fire soil losses at the plot scale. However, its effectiveness has not been quantified at the application rates that are typically used in operational post‐fire land management (2‐3 Mg ha‐1 using straw), as well as at scales larger than 100 m2. The present study compared post‐fire erosion rates for six convergent hillslopes or swales of 500‐800 m2, three of which were left untreated while the other three were mulched immediately after the fire with shredded eucalypt bark at a rate of 2.4 Mg ha‐1. Erosion rates were monitored at irregular intervals during the first three post‐fire years, whilst ground cover was assessed yearly. Selected topsoil properties (0‐2 cm) such as organic matter content and aggregate stability were determined at a single occasion, ‐two years after the wildfire, for three micro‐environments separately: bare soil, and under mulch/litter and vegetation. Soil losses on the untreated swales decreased with post‐fire year from 2.2 to 0.4 and 0.11 Mg ha‐1y‐1 (respectively for the first, second and third post‐fire years), while the mulched swales produced 84%, 77% and 38% less soil losses than the untreated swales. Soil losses also depended on slope aspect, with the north‐facing swales producing less erosion than the west‐facing ones. This could be linked to their significant differences in bare soil, vegetation and stone cover, or a combination thereof. The type of micro‐environment also played a significant role in topsoil properties (stone content, bulk density, resistance to penetration/shear stress, porosity and organic matter content). The present results add to the increasing evidence that forest residues should be duly considered for operational post‐fire land management. Forest residues were highly effective in reducing erosion from swales at application rates as low as the typical 2 Mg ha‐1 of post‐fire straw mulch.