Long-term frequent fires do not decrease topsoil carbon and nitrogen in an Afromontane grasslandFindlay, Nicola; Manson, Alan; Cromsigt, Joris Pgm; Gordijn, Paul; Nixon, Cathy; Rietkerk, Max; Thibaud, Guy; Wassen, Martin J.; te Beest, Mariska;
Fire has been an integral evolutionary force shaping and maintaining grassy biomes, such as the Afromontane grasslands of South Africa. Afromontane grasslands represent a large carbon reservoir, but it is uncertain how fire affects their long-term C storage. We investigated the effect of fire regime on soil organic C and N (SOC; SON) in a long-term (39-year) burning experiment in the Maloti-Drakensberg Park, South Africa. We compared SOC and SON sampled in 2004 and 2019 from six treatments differing in fire frequency (annual, biennial, five-year, infrequent) and season (spring, autumn). Average SOC increased significantly between 2004 and 2019. Average SON increased slightly, resulting in a significant increase in C:N ratio, indicating that soil organic matter is becoming less N-eutrophic. Importantly, burning annually in spring increased SOC and SON. This unexpected response is attributed to the aluandic (acidic, high organic matter) properties of Drakensberg soils. Burning in autumn did not increase SOC and SON. The lowest C stocks were observed in infrequently burnt plots. Average C sequestration across all fire treatments was 0.30 Mg ha(-1) y(-1). The observed increase in SOC under frequent fires is contrary to many findings from other studies in grassy ecosystems and notably driven by fire season.
fire regime; montane grassland; soil
Published inAfrican Journal of Range and Forage Science 2022, volume: 39, number: 1, pages: 44-55
Publisher: TAYLOR AND FRANCIS LTD
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