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Research article2022Peer reviewed

Soil phosphorus forms show only minor changes across a 5000-year-old boreal wildfire chronosequence

Vincent, Andrea G.; Schleucher, Jurgen; Giesler, Reiner; Wardle, David A.


Wildfire is the main disturbance in most boreal forests. In the prolonged absence of wildfire, ecosystem retrogression occurs, which is characterized by reduced productivity, plant biomass and belowground process rates. Previous evidence suggests that phosphorus (P) decreases during retrogression, but the mechanisms involved remain poorly understood. Here we use 1-D P-31 and 2-D, H-1-P-31 NMR to characterize changes in humus P composition across a 5000 year post-fire chronosequence in northern Sweden, to understand why P availability declines during long term fire absence. Against expectations, humus P composition varied only modestly with increasing time since fire. Using a method to back-calculate the in situ soil organic P speciation, we found that it was dominated by biologically active compounds such as RNA (41%), phospholipids (28%) and DNA (22%). The concentration of DNA and pyrophosphate was 19% and 29% lower, respectively, on infrequently burnt than recently burnt islands, and the concentration of DNA, phospholipids and nucleotides was positively correlated with net primary productivity (NPP). Given the lack of evidence for the accumulation of "recalcitrant" P or a geochemical P sink, reductions in P availability during retrogression may be associated with impaired P cycling through slower decomposition rates, and increasing humus depth separating surface humus from P-rich mineral soil. Our findings align with observed negative relationships between NPP and organic P concentration across other chronosequences. They also suggest that changing fire regimes in the boreal zone could indirectly affect the P cycle through changes in NPP and soil microflora rather than through changes in humus P composition.


One-dimensional P-31 NMR; Two-dimensional H-1; P-31 NMR; Ecosystem retrogression; Arjeplog; Anthropogenic fire suppression; Fennoscandia

Published in

2022, Volume: 159, number: 1, pages: 15-32
Publisher: SPRINGER