Long-term effects of forest fires on soil greenhouse gas emissions and extracellular enzyme activities in a hemiboreal forest

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Abstract

Fire is the most important natural disturbance in boreal forests, and it has a major role regulating the carbon (C) budget of these systems. With the expected increase in fire frequency, the greenhouse gas (GHG) budget of boreal forest soils may change. In order to understand the long-term nature of the soil–atmosphere GHG exchange after fire, we established a fire chronosequence representing successional stages at 8, 19, 34, 65, 76 and 179 years following stand-replacing fires in hemiboreal Scots pine forests in Estonia. Changes in extracellular activity, litter decomposition, vegetation biomass, and soil physicochemical properties were assessed in relation to carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. Soil temperature was highest 8 years after fire, whereas soil moisture varied through the fire chronosequences without a consistent pattern. Litter decomposition and CO2 efflux were still lower 8 years after fire compared with pre-fire levels (179 years after fire). Both returned to pre-fire levels before vegetation re-established, and CO2 efflux was only strongly responsive to temperature from 19 years after fire onward. Recovery of CO2 efflux in the long term was associated with a moderate effect of fire on enzyme activity, the input of above- and below-ground litter carbon, and the re-establishment of vegetation. Soil acted as a CH4 sink and N2O source similarly in all successional stages. Compared with soil moisture and time after fire, soil temperature was the most important predictor for both GHGs. The re-establishment of overstorey and vegetation cover (mosses and lichens) might have caused an increase in CH4 and N2O effluxes in the studied areas, respectively.

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Ribeiro-Kumara, C., Pumpanen, J., Heinonsalo, J., Metslaid, M., Orumaa, A., Jõgiste, K., … Köster, K. (2020). Long-term effects of forest fires on soil greenhouse gas emissions and extracellular enzyme activities in a hemiboreal forest. Science of the Total Environment, 718. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.135291

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