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Effects of Prescribed Fire on Nutrient Pools and Losses from Glades Occurring Within Oak-Hickory Forests of Central Kentucky

Authors

  • T. L. E. Trammell,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology & Center for Watershed Research, Life Sciences 139, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292, U.S.A.
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  • C. C. Rhoades,

    1. Department of Forestry, University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY 40506, U.S.A.
    2. Present address: U.S. Forest Service, Rocky Mountain Research Station, Fort Collins, CO 80526, U.S.A.
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  • P. A. Bukaveckas

    1. Department of Biology & Center for Watershed Research, Life Sciences 139, University of Louisville, Louisville, KY 40292, U.S.A.
    2. Present address: Department of Biology and Center for Environmental Studies, 1000 Cary Street, Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA 23284, U.S.A.
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Abstract

Forest openings, also known as glades, arise through a variety of mechanisms including disturbance (fire and blow downs) and local variation in soil or bedrock geology. They are common in many forest types and are often dominated by locally rare herbaceous species. Prescribed burning is increasingly used as a management approach for maintaining glades although little is known about the effects of fire on these habitats. Of particular concern is the potential for nutrient loss during and after fire because glades are often characterized by nutrient-poor soils. We quantitated nutrient losses through combustion and leaching for glade and adjacent forest habitats subjected to a prescribed burn. Our findings suggest that spring burns do not result in appreciable loss of nutrient capital from glades in comparison with those observed in the surrounding forest. Fire resulted in a substantial loss of litter mass (37%) in the forest but no measurable loss in the glade. Nitrogen losses through combustion were significant in the forest and were equivalent to 4.5 years of atmospheric inputs. Fire significantly increased soil nitrate pools in forest but not in glade plots. No detectable increases in nitrogen, phosphorus, or base cation leaching were observed in either forest or glade habitats within 4 months after the burn. These findings suggest that plant and microbial nutrient uptake rapidly reestablish control over leaching losses when burns are conducted at the start of the growing season. Biotic retention minimizes fire impacts on nutrient loss from the ecosystem.

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