Fire Ecology & Effects

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Soil nutrient release and microbial changes after burning of masticated fuels

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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).

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Fire and wildlife

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The good, bad, and ugly of fire and wildlife – roasty toasty critters or promoting sustainable habitat for expanding and healthy wildlife populations? Let’s discuss the pros and cons of fire on wildlife. How is the lack of fire at the necessary scale, frequency, intensity/severity, and seasonality one of the greatest threats to wildlife in fire-dependent ecosystems?

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Daily smoke cover dampens fire severity in initial burns but not reburns in complex terrain

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Smoke characteristics improved predictions of fire severity in non-reburn areas but not in reburns. Maximum daily smoke cover interacted with elevation, showing a strong dampening effect of high smoke cover on fire severity at low elevations consistent with prior work and a weaker amplifying effect on fire severity at middle elevations with low smoke cover.

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Soil nutrient release and microbial changes following burning of masticated fuels

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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 to 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).

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Increasing prevalence of severe fires change the structure of arthropod communities: Evidence from a meta-analysis

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Across the entire arthropod community, fire also had variable effects on community diversity. Fire tended to have a negative effect size on arthropods across life stages, but responses did vary among groups. Nearly all functional groups exhibited a negative response to fire with the exception of herbivores, for which abundance, diversity and richness increased after fire.

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Frequency of disturbance mitigates high-severity fire in the Lake Tahoe Basin

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Study results suggest increasing the frequency of disturbances (a lower disturbance return interval) would reduce the percentage of high-severity fire on landscape but not the total amount of wildfire in general. However, a higher DRI reduced carbon storage and sequestration, particularly in management strategies that emphasized prescribed fire over hand or mechanical fuel treatments.

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10th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress

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The Association for Fire Ecology (AFE) is excited to announce that the 10th International Fire Ecology and Management Congress will be held December 4-8, 2023 in Monterey, California at the Hyatt Regency Monterey Hotel. The Call for Proposals will open in January 2023.

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MTBS Viewer: 20 yrs of data from the Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity Program

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Monitoring Trends in Burn Severity (MTBS) includes all fires 1000 acres or greater in the west and 500 acres or greater in the east. The extent of coverage includes the continental U.S., Alaska, Hawai’i and Puerto Rico. MTBS data are freely available to the public.

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The impacts of wildfires of different burn severities on vegetation structure across the western US rangelands

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High severity wildfires led to the greatest decrease in cover for all plant functional types, while low severity wildfires caused the least decrease in the functional type cover in most cases, though some variations existed. Furthermore, the impacts of wildfires on vegetation cover were greater in woody (SHR and TREE) types than in herbaceous (AFG and PFG) types. Significant negative correlation existed between percent changes in AFG and PFG cover and SPEI indicating higher prefire soil moisture conditions likely increased fine fuel loads and led to a larger decrease in AFG and PFG cover following wildfires. Significant positive correlation existed between percent changes in SHR and TREE cover and SPEI indicating drier prefire conditions resulted in larger decreases in SHR and TREE cover following wildfires.

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Early succession following prescribed fire in low sagebrush (Artemisia arbuscula var. arbuscula) steppe

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We evaluated plant community succession following prescribed fire on Artemisia arbuscula var. arbuscula (low sagebrush) steppe in southeastern Oregon. Treatments were “prescribed burned” (burn; fall 2012) and “unburned” (control) low sagebrush a steppe, and the study design was a randomized complete block with 4 replicates per treatment. Herbaceous yield and vegetation canopy cover and density were compared between treatments (2012–2020). Fire practically eliminated low sagebrush and there was no recruitment of new plants in the first 8 years after burning. Herbaceous yield in the burn treatment was about double the control for most of the postfire period. Native perennial grasses and forbs constituted 94% to 96% and Bromus tectorum L. (cheatgrass) 0.2% to 2% of total herbaceous yield in the control. In the burn treatment, perennial grasses and forbs constituted 83% to 87%, native annual forbs 2% to 5%, and cheatgrass 3% to 9% of total herbaceous yield. Despite an increase in cheatgrass, the burned low sagebrush sites were dominated by herbaceous perennial grasses and forbs and exhibited high levels of resilience and resistance. After prescribed fire, for the study sites and comparable low sagebrush associations, weed control or seeding are not necessary to recover the native herbaceous community. However, the results in our study are for low-severity prescribed fire in intact low sagebrush plant communities. Higher-severity fire, as might occur with wildfire, and in low sagebrush communities having greater prefire invasive weed composition should not be assumed to develop similarly high levels of community resilience and resistance.

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