Effects of prescribed fire in mixed oak forests of the southern Appalachians: forest floor, soil, and soil solution nitrogen responses
We examined nutrient cycling responses to prescribed fire on three sub-mesic, mixed-oak sites located in the Blue Ridge Physiographic province of the southern Appalachian Mountains: Alarka Laurel Branch (AL), Robin Branch (RB), and Roach Mill Branch (RM). Each study site was located within a sub-watershed that drained a first order stream. Our objective was to quantify the effects of prescribed burning on forest floor mass, nitrogen and carbon pools; and soil and soil water available nitrogen. Each site included a burned and unburned control area; both burned and control areas were sampled before and after burning. Within each plot, we sampled forest floor mass, carbon and nitrogen, soil and soil solution nitrate (NO3-N) and ammonium (NH4-N) concentrations before and after the prescribed burns. All prescribed fires were conducted in the dormant season and were low to moderate intensity. All sites lost a significant amount of forest floor mass due to burning; 82 to 91% of the Oi layer and 26 to 46% of the Oe + Oa layer. Soil NH4-N concentrations increased in surface soils (0-5 cm) only, immediately after burning, but return to pre-burn levels by mid-summer. Burning had no measurable effect on soil solution inorganic nitrogen concentrations. Low levels of solution NO3-N and NH4-N after burning and no change in stream NO3-N concentrations indicated that no inorganic nitrogen was lost from these sites.