Variation in Aboveground Cover Influences Soil Nitrogen Availability at Fine Spatial Scales Following Severe Fire in Subalpine Conifer Forests

Monica G. Turner, William H. Romme, Erica A H. Smithwick, Daniel B. Tinker, Jun Zhu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

22 Scopus citations


Following fire, fine-scale variation in early successional vegetation and soil nutrients may influence development of ecosystem structure and function. We studied conifer forests burned by stand-replacing wildfire in Greater Yellowstone (Wyoming, USA) to address two questions: (1) How do the variability and spatial structure of aboveground cover and soil nitrogen availability change during the first 4 years following stand-replacing fire? (2) At fine scales (2-20 m), are postfire soil inorganic N pools and fluxes related to aboveground cover? Aboveground cover, soil N pools, and annual net N transformations were measured from 2001 to 2004 using a spatially explicit sampling design in four 0.25-ha plots that burned during summer 2000. Within-stand variability (coefficient of variation) in postfire live vegetative cover declined with time since fire, whereas variability in bare mineral soil, charred litter and fresh litter was greatest 2-3 years postfire. The soil nitrate pool was more variable than the soil ammonium pool, but annual net nitrification was less variable than annual net N mineralization. Spatial structure (quantified by semivariograms) was observed in some aboveground cover variables (for example, graminoids and fresh litter), but there was little spatial structure in soil N variables and no obvious congruence in spatial scales of autocorrelation for soil N and aboveground cover. Significant Spearman correlations (at the sample point) indicated that aboveground cover and soil N were coupled following severe fire, and the dominant influence was from aboveground cover to soil N, rather than from soil N to vegetation. Initial patterns of fire severity and re-vegetation contributed to fine-scale heterogeneity in soil N availability for at least 4 years after severe fire.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1081-1095
Number of pages15
Issue number7
StatePublished - Nov 1 2011

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology

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