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Effect of fire and tree-grass patches on soil nitrogen in Australian tropical savannas

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Richards, A. E., Brackin, R., Lindsay, D. A. J. and Schmidt, S. (2012) Effect of fire and tree-grass patches on soil nitrogen in Australian tropical savannas. Austral Ecology, 37 (6). pp. 668-677. ISSN 1442-9985

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Article Link: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1442-9993.2011.02335.x


Fire is an important driver of nutrient cycling in savannas. Here, we determined the impact of fire frequency on total and soluble soil nitrogen (N) pools in tropical savanna. The study sites consisted of 1-ha experimental plots near Darwin, Australia, which remained unburnt for at least 14 years or were burnt at 1-, 2- or 5-year intervals over the past 6 years. Soil was analysed from patches underneath tree canopies and in inter-canopy patches at 1, 12, 28, 55 and 152 days after fire. Patch type had a significant effect on all soil N pools, with greater concentrations of total and soluble (nitrate, ammonium, amino acids) N under tree canopies than inter-canopy patches. The time since the last fire had no significant effect on N pools. Fire frequency similarly did not affect total soil N but it did influence soluble soil N. Soil amino acids were most prominent in burnt savanna, ammonium was highest in infrequently burnt (5-year interval) savanna and nitrate was highest in unburnt savanna. We suggest that the main effect of fire on soil N relations occurs indirectly through altered tree-grass dynamics. Previous studies have shown that high fire frequencies reduce tree cover by lowering recruitment and increasing mortality. Our findings suggest that these changes in tree cover could result in a 30% reduction in total soil N and 1060% reductions in soluble N pools. This finding is consistent with studies from savannas globally, providing further evidence for a general theory of patchiness as a key driver of nutrient cycling in the savanna biome.

Item Type:Article
Business groups:Horticulture and Forestry Science
Additional Information:Richards, Anna E. Brackin, Richard Lindsay, D. Alexander J. Schmidt, Susanne Si
Subjects:Forestry > Forest soils
Live Archive:03 Sep 2013 05:08
Last Modified:03 Sep 2021 16:49

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