Wildfire mitigation strategies affect soil enzyme activity and soil organic carbon in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda) forests
We quantified the effects of three wildfire hazard reduction treatments (prescribed fire, thinning from below, and the combination of fire and thinning), and passive management (control) on mineral soil organic C, and enzyme activity in loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) forests on the Piedmont of South Carolina. Soil organic C was reduced by thinning, either alone or with prescribed fire, and this effect persisted through the fourth post-treatment year. Fire also resulted in reduced soil organic C, but not until several years after treatment. Soil C/N ration initially increased after fire, either alone with thinning, but this difference did not persist. The activities of three soil enzymes (acid, phosphatase, chitinase, and phenol oxidase) in the upper mineral soil were quantified as measures of microbial activity. During the fourth post-treatment year we observed significant stimulation of all three enzyme systems as a result of thinning or thinning and burning. Although the patterns of variation in acid phospatase and chitinase activity among treatments were similar during the first and fourth post-treatment years, the first-year treatment effects were not statistically significant. Given the management objective of utilizing these stands for timber production, the increased potential for rapid nutrient turnover offered by thinning gives this approach advantages over prescribed fire; however, management for maximum long-term storage of soil C may be better facilitated by prescribed fire.