Matt Busse, Carol J. Shestak, Ken R. Hubbert
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Cataloging Information

Fire Effects

NRFSN number: 25321
FRAMES RCS number: 66922
Record updated: February 6, 2023

Soil temperature extremes are not uncommon when woody fuels are ignited in prescribed burns or wildfires. Whether this leads to substantial loss of soil organic matter or microbial life is unclear. We created a soil heat gradient by burning four levels of masticated woody fuels (0, 34, 101, and 169 Mg ha−1) to determine if heat thresholds produce abrupt changes in soil C, N, microbial biomass, or fungal hyphae. Twenty-four burns were conducted with masticated fuels overlaying a clay loam soil equilibrated at either 4 or 25% volumetric soil water content. Maximum temperatures ranged from 40 to 450 °C depending on fuel load and soil moisture content, with heat duration (>60 °C) as great as 22 h. Moist soil quenched temperatures two- to threefold compared with dry soil at comparable fuel loads. A slight, gradual decline in total C and N was found with increasing temperature and heat duration, reaching a maximum loss of 14-18% of the total at the highest heat load. Available NH4 increased linearly starting at 150-175 °C and reached a maximum 15-fold increase relative to unburned soil by 450 °C. Nitrification (30 d post-fire) was low regardless of treatment and was essentially eliminated at the highest temperatures. Microbial biomass declined curvilinearly with increased heating, approaching 65% loss compared with unburned soil, and was most rapid in moist soil once temperatures exceeded 60-70 °C. Ultimately, we found no evidence of abrupt heat thresholds for these common soil properties. Instead, property changes followed a slightly declining trajectory (soil C, N, NO3, fungal hyphae) or a steady incremental increase (NH4) or decrease (microbial biomass).


Busse, Matt D.; Shestak, Carol J.; Hubbert, Ken R. 2023. Soil nutrient release and microbial changes after burning of masticated fuels. Soil Science Society of America Journal 87(1):172-181.

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