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PRESCRIBED FIRE EFFECTS ON FOREST FLOOR AND SOIL NUTRIENTS IN A SIERRA NEVADA FOREST

Murphy, J. D.1; Johnson, D. W.1; Miller, Watkins W.1; Walker, Roger F.1; Blank, Robert R.2

doi: 10.1097/01.ss.0000193886.35336.d8
Technical Articles

The objectives of this study were to quantify the effects of prescribed fire on forest floor C and nutrient content, soil chemical properties, and soil leaching in a Jeffrey pine (Pinus jeffreyi [Grev. and Balf.]) forest in the eastern Sierra Nevada Mountains of California. The study included a prescribed fire and three timber harvest treatments: whole-tree (WT) thinning, cut-to-length (CTL) thinning, and no harvest (CONT). Prescribed fire resulted in significant decreases in forest floor C (−8 to −23 mg ha−1, or 39% to 61% decrease), N (−114 to −252 kg ha−1, or −31% to 51% decrease), S (0 to −15 kg ha−1, or 0% to 48% decrease), and K (−3 to −45 kg ha−1, or 12% to 51% decrease) contents but no significant change in Ca or Mg contents. In each case, the decreases were greatest in the CTL treatment, where slash accumulation before burning was greatest. Burning caused statistically significant effects on soil total nitrogen, C:N ratio, pH, water-extractable ortho-P, and water-extractable SO42− in some cases, but these effects were generally small, inconsistent among harvest treatments and horizons, and in the case of ortho-P much less than the temporal variation in both burned and unburned plots. There were no statistically significant effects of burning on total C, Bray-extractable P, bicarbonate-extractable P, and exchangeable Ca2+, K+, or Mg2+. Burning had no significant effect on soil solution pH, ortho-P, SO42−, NO3, or NH4+ as measured by ceramic cup lysimeters and no effect on the cumulative leaching of ortho-P, NO3, or NH4+ as measured by resin lysimeters. Burning had no effect on needle weight or nutrient contents as measured by the vector analysis. We conclude that prescribed fire had minimal effects on soils or water quality at this site, and that the most ecologically significant effect was the loss of N from the forest floor.

1Natural Resources and Environmental Science, University of Nevada, Reno, NV 89557. Dr. D. W. Johnson is corresponding author. E-mail: dwj@cabnr.unr.edu

2USDA Agricultural Research Service, 920 Valley Road, Reno, NV 89512.

Received March 12, 2005; accepted Oct 19, 2005

© 2006 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.