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Stream Nitrate Response to Different Burning Treatments in Southern Appalachian Forests


Southern Appalachian forests are undergoing considerable change due to altered disturbance regimes. For example, fire exclusion has had a major impact on the structure and function of pine-hardwood ecosystems. Recently, fire has been prescribed for a variety of applications: 1) stand-replacement in the form of a mimicked wildfire, 2) site-preparation as part of a fell-and-burn prescription, and 3) understory burning for fuels reduction and wildlife habitat improvement. Assessing watershed-scale responses to burning requires identification of key parameters indicative of changes in structure and function. In the southern Appalachians, nitrogen in the form of NO 3 is a key indicator of ecosystem change or response to disturbance. We compared stream NO 3 -N responses among stand-replacement fires (Winespring Creek and Hickory Branch), a fell-and-burn prescription (Jacobs Branch), and a wildfire in an old-growth deciduous forest (Joyce Kilmer). Nitrate-nitrogen concentration increased following two of the four fires. Concentrations following the fell-and- burn prescription fire increased from -1 and remained elevated for 8 months. Similarly, stream NO 3 concentration increased approximately 2 weeks following the old-growth deciduous wildfire from 0.04 to a maximum of 0.50 mg L -1 and remained elevated for 6 weeks. There were no significant differences in NO 3 following one of the stand-replacement fires or between treatment and control or pre- and post-burn following the other stand-replacement fire due to maintenance of an unburned riparian area. Although the old-growth deciduous wildfire was essentially an understory burn, the magnitude of stream N response suggests that unavailable recalcitrant forms of N may have been released during the wildfire, as well as a reflection of the potential inefficiency of old-growth forests at sequestering mobilized nutrients. In all cases, hydrologic losses of NO 3 -N were insignificant with respect to effects on water quality and site depletion of N.

2003

Clinton, Barton D.
Vose, James M.
Knoepp, Jennifer D.
Elliott, Katherine J.

Miscellaneous Publication

Pages 174-181 in K.E.M. Galley, R.C. Klinger, and N.G Sugihara (eds.). Proceedings of Fire Conference 2000: The First National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management. Miscellaneous Publication No. 13, Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, FL

Clinton, Barton D.; Vose, James M.; Knoepp, Jennifer D.; Elliott, Katherine J. 2003. Stream Nitrate Response to Different Burning Treatments in Southern Appalachian Forests. Pages 174-181 in K.E.M. Galley, R.C. Klinger, and N.G Sugihara (eds.). Proceedings of Fire Conference 2000: The First National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management. Miscellaneous Publication No. 13, Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, FL


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