Inorganic nitrogen availability after severe stand-replacing fire in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem

Monica G. Turner, Erica A.H. Smithwick, Kristine L. Metzger, Daniel B. Tinker, William H. Romme

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110 Scopus citations


Understanding ecosystem processes as they relate to wildfire and vegetation dynamics is of growing importance as fire frequency and extent increase throughout the western United States. However, the effects of severe, stand-replacing wildfires are poorly understood. We studied inorganic nitrogen pools and mineralization rates after stand-replacing wildfires in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, Wyoming. After fires that burned in summer 2000, soil ammonium concentration peaked in 2001 (33 mg NH4-N·kg soil-1); soil nitrate increased subsequently (2.7 mg NO3-N·kgsoil-1 in 2003) but was still low. However, annual net ammonification rates were largely negative from 2001 to 2004, indicating ammonium depletion. Thus, although net nitrification rates were positive, annual net nitrogen mineralization (net ammonification plus net nitrification) remained low. Aboveground net primary production (ANPP) increased from 0.25 to 1.6 Mg·ha-1·yr-1 from 2001 to 2004, but variation in ANPP among stands was not related to net nitrogen mineralization rates. Across a broader temporal gradient (stand age zero to >250 yr), negative rates of net annual ammonification were especially pronounced in the first postfire year. Laboratory incubations using 15N isotope pool dilution revealed that gross production of ammonium was reduced and ammonium consumption greatly exceeded gross production during the initial postfire years. Our results suggest a microbial nitrogen sink for several years after severe, stand-replacing fire, confirming earlier hypotheses about postdisturbance succession and nutrient cycling in cold, fire-dominated coniferous forests. Postfire forests in Yellowstone seem to be highly conservative for nitrogen, and microbial immobilization of ammonium plays a key role during early succession.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)4782-4789
Number of pages8
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number12
StatePublished - Mar 20 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General


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