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Effects of season and interval of prescribed burns on pyrogenic carbon in ponderosa pine stands in the southern Blue Mountains, Oregon, USA

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In ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) forests of the western United States, prescribed burns are used to reduce fuel loads and restore historical fire regimes. The season of and interval between burns can have complex consequences for the ecosystem, including the production of pyrogenic carbon (PyC). PyC plays a crucial role in soil carbon cycling, displaying turnover times that are orders of magnitude longer than unburned organic matter. This work investigated how the season of and interval between prescribed burns affects soil organic matter, including the formation and retention of PyC, in a ponderosa pine forest of eastern Oregon. In 1997 a prescribed burn study was implemented in Malheur National Forest to examine the ecological effects of burning at 5 and 15-year intervals in either the spring or fall. In October 2015, both O-horizon and mineral soil (0–15 cm) samples were collected and analyzed for PyC concentration, content, and structure using the benzene polycarboxylic acid (BPCA) method. O-horizon depth, carbon and nitrogen concentration and content, pH, and bulk density were also measured. Plots burned in the spring and fall had lower C and N stocks in the O-horizon compared to the unburned controls due to a reduction in O-horizon depth; however, we did not observe any differences in O-horizon concentration of C or N. Moreover, the concentrations and stocks of C and N in the mineral soil of plots burned in the spring or fall were the same as or only very slightly different from the unburned controls, suggesting that the prescribed burns on these sites have not adversely affected SOM quantity in the surface mineral soil carbon pools over the course of this 18-year experiment. Compared to unburned controls, we estimate that fall burns increased the mean PyC concentration of the mineral soil by 8.42 g BPCA/kg C. We did not detect a difference in mean PyC concentration of the mineral soil between the spring burns and the unburned controls; however, the spring burn plots did contain a number of isolated pockets with very high concentrations of PyC, suggesting a patchier burn pattern for these plots. In general, there was no detectable difference in any of the response variables when comparing the various prescribed burn treatments to one another. Reestablishing fire in these forests resulted in minor effects on the PyC concentration and pH, which may have beneficial impacts on soil carbon and available nutrients, while having few effects on other soil characteristics. This suggests that the application of low severity prescribed fires should result in little detrimental change to soils of ponderosa pine forests of the Southern Blue Mountains, while achieving management objectives such as reduction of surface fuels.
L.M. Matosziuk
Matosziuk LM. Effects of season and interval of prescribed burns on pyrogenic carbon in ponderosa pine stands in the southern Blue Mountains, Oregon, USA Alleau Y. Geoderma. 2019 ;348.