The effects of fire on soil nitrogen associated with patches of the actinorhizal shrub Ceanothus cordulatus Public Deposited

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  • Nitrogen is a limiting resource in many temperate forests and nitrogen-fixing plants are usually limited to the early stages of post-disturbance succession. In fire-dependent Sierra Nevada forests, however, Ceanothus cordulatus is relatively abundant even in old-growth forest conditions which are at least partly maintained by fire.We conducted a field experiment to determine if soil beneath Ceanothus patches represent ‘resource islands’ of available N which persist after fire. Nine plots containing discrete patches of Ceanothus, Arctostaphylos patula (manzanita; chosen as a non N-fixing reference species), and bare forest floor were subjected to either a low-intensity (n = 3) or highintensity (n = 3) bum treatment, or remained unburned as controls (n = 3). Soil temperatures during the bum were monitored by a network of thermocouples placed at the surface of the mineral soil and at ca. 10 cm depths. Soil samples were collected from the organic horizon, 0-10 cm and 15-25 cm depths within each patch type immediately before burning and 2 days, and 6, and 11 months after. Soil moisture, total C and N, and ammonium and nitrate concentrations were determined in the laboratory. Before the burn, Ceanothus patches were significantly enriched in total and inorganic N in the organic horizon relative to the other patch types. A sharp increase in inorganic N was observed in all patch types and depths immediately following burning, but by 6 months after the burn, Ceanothus patches were significantly enriched relative to the surrounding patch types and remained so at months. Resprouting Ceanothus patches will continue to be an important source of a limiting nutrient in this fire-prone ecosystem.
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  • Oakley, B. B., North, M. P., & Franklin, J. F. (2003). The effects of fire on soil nitrogen associated with patches of the actinorhizal shrub Ceanothus cordulatus. Plant and Soil, 254, 35-46.
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