Long-term impacts of wildfire and logging on forest soils

Elle J. Bowd, Sam C. Banks, Craig L. Strong, David B. Lindenmayer

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    Soils are a fundamental component of terrestrial ecosystems, and play key roles in biogeochemical cycles and the ecology of microbial, plant and animal communities. Global increases in the intensity and frequency of ecological disturbances are driving major changes in the structure and function of forest ecosystems, yet little is known about the long-term impacts of disturbance on soils. Here we show that natural disturbance (fire) and human disturbances (clearcut logging and post-fire salvage logging) can significantly alter the composition of forest soils for far longer than previously recognized. Using extensive sampling across a multi-century chronosequence in some of the tallest and most carbon-dense forests worldwide (southern Australian, mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests), we provide compelling evidence that disturbance impacts on soils are evident up to least eight decades after disturbance, and potentially much longer. Relative to long-undisturbed forest (167 years old), sites subject to multiple fires, clearcut logging or salvage logging were characterized by soils with significantly lower values of a range of ecologically important measures at multiple depths, including available phosphorus and nitrate. Disturbance impacts on soils were most pronounced on sites subject to compounding perturbations, such as multiple fires and clearcut logging. Long-lasting impacts of disturbance on soil can have major ecological and functional implications.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)113-118
    Number of pages6
    JournalNature Geoscience
    Issue numberFebruary
    Early online date21 Jan 2019
    Publication statusPublished - Feb 2019


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