Soil and geomorphic patterns within relict charcoal hearths could represent unique ecosystem niches

S. Bayuzick, D. Guarin, J. Benavides, A. Bonhage, F. Hirsch, D. R. Diefenbach, M. McDill, T. Raab, P. J. Drohan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Hearths used for 19th and 20th century charcoal manufacturing have been found to have unique plant communities or to produce unique growth characteristics for some species but not others. Given known differences in hearth morphology, within hearth physical and chemical differences may exist and result in unique ecologic niches. We examined soil stratigraphy across 8 relict charcoal hearths (RCH) and control soils on different landforms near a 19th century furnace complex (Greenwood Furnace, northcentral Appalachians USA). Soils were analyzed for particle size, total and trace elements, and fertility. Platform creation resulted in soils from upslope RCH positions mixed with subsurface materials on the downslope side to create a stabilized platform. The thin, uniform thickness of charcoal surface horizons (Ac) indicate that RCHs were not used more than once for charcoal manufacturing or that charcoal was always removed very efficiently. While rubification of soil or rock from high heat was seen in 6 of 8 sites sampled, it was not extensive across sampled areas of any one hearth, which indicate hearth use may not be frequent, hot enough, or spatially disparate. Soil fertility characteristics change within RCHs but also by landscape position. Downslope RCH positions are enriched in some parameters compared to control soils (total C, Mehlich 3 Mg, Ca, and Aquia Regia digestion Mn) and that enrichment often is from the surface downward. Downslope enrichment within RCH soils may have occurred from charcoal and released ions, slope erosion and accumulation, or transportation of constructed materials during RCH creation. Landscape position may accentuate or mute soil chemistry differences. Greenwood Furnace RCHs have unique patterns of chemistry, which could result in unique niches for flora and maybe fauna within RCH. Future research could more closely investigate whether hearths support unique species assemblages and how they may play a role in enhancing today's forest biodiversity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108525
StatePublished - Feb 1 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Earth-Surface Processes


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