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Keywords:

  • Carbon pools;
  • Repeated fire;
  • δ13C;
  • Invasive grass;
  • Acacia confusa;
  • Panicum maximum

Abstract

[1] Repeated fires might have different effect on ecosystem carbon storage than a single fire event, but information on repeated fires and their effects on forest ecosystems and carbon storage is scarce. However, changes in climate, vegetation composition, and human activities are expected to make forests more susceptible to fires that recur with relatively high frequency. In this study, the effects of repeated fires on ecosystem carbon and nitrogen stocks were examined along a fire-induced forest/grassland gradient wherein the fire events varied from an unburned forest to repeatedly burned grassland. Results from the study show repeated fires drastically decreased ecosystem carbon and nitrogen stocks along the forest/grassland gradient. The reduction began with the disappearance of living tree biomass, and followed by the loss of soil carbon and nitrogen. Within 4 years of the onset of repeated fires on the unburned forest, the original ecosystem carbon and nitrogen stocks were reduced by 42% and 21%, respectively. Subsequent fires caused cumulative reductions in ecosystem carbon and nitrogen stocks by 68% and 44% from the original ecosystem carbon and nitrogen stocks, respectively. The analyses of carbon budgets calculated by vegetation composition and stable isotopic δ13C values indicate that 84% of forest-derived carbon is lost at grassland, whereas the gain of grass-derived carbon only compensates 18% for this loss. Such significant losses in ecosystem carbon and nitrogen stocks suggest that the effects of repeated fires have substantial impacts on ecosystem and soil carbon and nitrogen cycling.