Article | Published:

Long-term impacts of wildfire and logging on forest soils

Nature Geosciencevolume 12pages113118 (2019) | Download Citation

Abstract

Soils are a fundamental component of terrestrial ecosystems, and play key roles in biogeochemical cycles and the ecology of microbial, plant and animal communities. Global increases in the intensity and frequency of ecological disturbances are driving major changes in the structure and function of forest ecosystems, yet little is known about the long-term impacts of disturbance on soils. Here we show that natural disturbance (fire) and human disturbances (clearcut logging and post-fire salvage logging) can significantly alter the composition of forest soils for far longer than previously recognized. Using extensive sampling across a multi-century chronosequence in some of the tallest and most carbon-dense forests worldwide (southern Australian, mountain ash (Eucalyptus regnans) forests), we provide compelling evidence that disturbance impacts on soils are evident up to least eight decades after disturbance, and potentially much longer. Relative to long-undisturbed forest (167 years old), sites subject to multiple fires, clearcut logging or salvage logging were characterized by soils with significantly lower values of a range of ecologically important measures at multiple depths, including available phosphorus and nitrate. Disturbance impacts on soils were most pronounced on sites subject to compounding perturbations, such as multiple fires and clearcut logging. Long-lasting impacts of disturbance on soil can have major ecological and functional implications.

Access optionsAccess options

Rent or Buy article

Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.

from$8.99

All prices are NET prices.

Data availability

The data that support the findings of this study are available in the Supplementary Information and from the corresponding author upon request.

Additional information

Publisher’s note: Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

References

  1. 1.

    Bowman, D. M. et al. Fire in the Earth system. Science 324, 481–484 (2009).

  2. 2.

    Fraver, S. et al. Forest structure following tornado damage and salvage logging in northern Maine, USA. Can. J. For. Res. 47, 560–564 (2017).

  3. 3.

    Seidl, R., Schelhaas, M. J., Rammer, W. & Verkerk, P. J. Increasing forest disturbances in Europe and their impact on carbon storage. Nat. Clim. Change 4, 806–610 (2014).

  4. 4.

    Bond, W. J. J., Woodward, F. I. I. & Midgley, G. F. F. The global distribution of ecosystems in a world without fire. New Phytol. 165, 525–537 (2005).

  5. 5.

    Giglio, L., Randerson, J. T. & van der Werf, G. R. Analysis of daily, monthly, and annual burned area using the fourth-generation global fire emissions database (GFED4). J. Geophys. Res. Biogeosci. 118, 317–328 (2013).

  6. 6.

    Van Der Werf, G. R. et al. Global fire emissions estimates during 1997–2016. Earth Syst. Sci. Data 9, 697–720 (2017).

  7. 7.

    Cochrane, M. A. & Laurance, W. F. Synergisms among fire, land use, and climate change in the Amazon. Fire Ecol. Manag. 37, 522–527 (2008).

  8. 8.

    Lindenmayer, D. B., Hobbs, R. J., Likens, G. E., Krebs, C. J. & Banks, S. C. Newly discovered landscape traps produce regime shifts in wet forests. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 108, 15887–15891 (2011).

  9. 9.

    Diochon, A., Kellman, L. & Beltrami, H. Looking deeper: an investigation of soil carbon losses following harvesting from a managed northeastern red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) forest chronosequence. For. Ecol. Manage. 257, 413–420 (2009).

  10. 10.

    Pellegrini, A. F. A. et al. Fire frequency drives decadal changes in soil carbon and nitrogen and ecosystem productivity. Nature 553, 194–198 (2018).

  11. 11.

    Watson, J. E. M. et al. The exceptional value of intact forest ecosystems. Nat. Ecol. Evol. 2, 599–610 (2018).

  12. 12.

    De Deyn, G. B., Raaijmakers, C. E. & Van Der Putten, W. H. Plant community development is affected by nutrients and soil biota. J. Ecol. 92, 824–834 (2004).

  13. 13.

    Mckenzie, N., Jacquier, D., Isbell, R. & Brown, K. Australian Soils and Landscapes: An Illustrated Compendium (CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, 2004).

  14. 14.

    Blum, W. E. H. Functions of soil for society and the environment. Rev. Environ. Sci. Bio/Technol. 4, 75–79 (2005).

  15. 15.

    Tedersoo, L. et al. Global diversity and geography of soil fungi. Science 346, 1052–1053 (2014).

  16. 16.

    Paustian, K. et al. Climate-smart soils. Nature 532, 49–57 (2016).

  17. 17.

    van der Putten, W. H. et al. Plant-soil feedbacks: the past, the present and future challenges. J. Ecol. 101, 265–276 (2013).

  18. 18.

    Hume, A. M., Han Chen, Y. H., Taylor, A. R. & Han, C. Intensive forest harvesting increases susceptibility of northern forest soils to carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus loss. J. Appl. Ecol. 55, 246–255 (2018).

  19. 19.

    Prest, D., Kellman, L. & Lavigne, M. B. Mineral soil carbon and nitrogen still low three decades following clearcut harvesting in a typical acadian forest stand. Geoderma 214-215, 62–69 (2014).

  20. 20.

    Bowman, D. M. J. S., Murphy, B. P., Neyland, D. L. J., Williamson, G. J. & Prior, L. D. Abrupt fire regime change may cause landscape-wide loss of mature obligate seeder forests. Glob. Change Biol. 20, 1008–1015 (2014).

  21. 21.

    Clarke, H. G., Smith, P. L. & Pitman, A. J. Regional signatures of future fire weather over eastern Australia from global climate models. Int. J. Wildl. Fire 20, 550–562 (2011).

  22. 22.

    McCarthy, M. A., Malcolm Gill, A. & Lindenmayer, D. B. Fire regimes in mountain ash forest: evidence from forest age structure, extinction models and wildlife habitat. For. Ecol. Manage. 124, 193–203 (1999).

  23. 23.

    Burns, E. L. et al. Ecosystem assessment of mountain ash forest in the Central Highlands of Victoria, south-eastern Australia. Austral. Ecol. 40, 386–399 (2015).

  24. 24.

    Florence, R. Ecology and Silviculture of Eucalypt Forests (CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, 1996).

  25. 25.

    Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) Climate Variability and Change in South-eastern Australia: A Synthesis of Findings from Phase 1 of the South Eastern Australian Climate Initiative (SEACI) (CSIRO Publishing, 2010).

  26. 26.

    Taylor, C., Mccarthy, M. A. & Lindenmayer, D. B. Nonlinear effects of stand age on fire severity. Conserv. Lett. 7, 355–370 (2014).

  27. 27.

    Bissett, A. et al. Introducing BASE: the Biomes of Australian Soil Environments soil microbial diversity database. Gigascience 5, 21 (2016).

  28. 28.

    Certini, G. Effects of fire on properties of forest soils: a review. Oecologia 143, 1–10 (2005).

  29. 29.

    Malvar, M. C. et al. Short-term effects of post-fire salvage logging on runoff and soil erosion. For. Ecol. Manage. 400, 555–567 (2017).

  30. 30.

    Wilson, C. J. Effects of logging and fire on runoff and erosion on highly erodible granitic soils in Tasmania. Water Resour. Res. 35, 3531–3546 (1999).

  31. 31.

    Bowd, E. J., Lindenmayer, D. B., Banks, S. C. & Blair, D. P. Logging and fire regimes alter plant communities. Ecol. Appl. 28, 826–841 (2018).

  32. 32.

    Rab, M. A. Recovery of soil physical properties from compaction and soil profile disturbance caused by logging of native forest in Victorian Central Highlands, Australia. For. Ecol. Manage. 191, 329–340 (2004).

  33. 33.

    Zummo, L. M. & Friedland, A. J. Soil carbon release along a gradient of physical disturbance in a harvested northern hardwood forest. For. Ecol. Manage. 261, 1016–1026 (2011).

  34. 34.

    Simard, D. G., Fyles, J. W., Paré, D., Nguyen, T. & Nguyen, D. Impacts of clearcut harvesting and wildfire on soil nutrient status in the Quebec boreal forest. Can. J. Soil Sci. 81, 229–237 (2001).

  35. 35.

    Menge, D. N. L., Pacala, S. W. & Hedin, L. O. Emergence and maintenance of nutrient limitation over multiple timescales in terrestrial emergence and maintenance of nutrient limitation over multiple timescales in terrestrial ecosystems. Source Am. Nat. 173, 164–175 (2009).

  36. 36.

    Ashton, D. H. in Fire and the Australian Biota (eds Gill, A. M., Groves, R. H. & Noble, I. R.) 339–366 (Australian Academy of Science, Canberra, 1981).

  37. 37.

    Bélanger, N., Côté, B., Fyles, J. W., Courchesne, F. & Hendershot, W. L. H. Forest regrowth as the controlling factor of soil nutrient availability 75 years after fire in a deciduous forest of Southern Quebec. Plant Soil 262, 363–372 (2004).

  38. 38.

    Chambers, A. B. & Attiwill, P. The ash-bed effect in Eucalyptus regnans forest: chemical, physical and microbiological changes in soil after heating or partial sterilisation. Austral. J. Bot. 42, 739–749 (1994).

  39. 39.

    Polglase, P. J. & Attiwill, P. M. Nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in relation to stand age of Eucalyptus regnans F. Muell. I. Return from plant to soil in litterfall. Plant Soil 142, 157–166 (1992).

  40. 40.

    Dijkstra, F. A. et al. Enhanced decomposition and nitrogen mineralization sustain rapid growth of Eucalyptus regnans after wildfire. J. Ecol. 105, 229–236 (2017).

  41. 41.

    May, B. M. M. & Attiwill, P. M. M. Nitrogen-fixation by Acacia dealbata and changes in soil properties 5 years after mechanical disturbance or slash-burning following timber harvest. For. Ecol. Manage. 181, 339–355 (2003).

  42. 42.

    Russell, A. E. & Raich, J. W. Rapidly growing tropical trees mobilize remarkable amounts of nitrogen, in ways that differ surprisingly among species. Proc. Natl Acad. Sci. USA 109, 10398–10402 (2012).

  43. 43.

    Moritz, M. A. et al. Climate Change and disruptions to global fire activity. Ecosphere 3, 49 (2012).

  44. 44.

    Bowman, D. M. J. S. et al. The human dimension of fire regimes on Earth. J. Biogeogr. 38, 2223–2236 (2011).

  45. 45.

    Kishchuk, B. E. et al. Decadal soil and stand response to fire, harvest, and salvage-logging disturbances in the western boreal mixedwood forest of Alberta, Canada. Can. J. For. Res. 45, 141–152 (2015).

  46. 46.

    Turner, B. L., Brenes-Arguedas, T. & Condit, R. Pervasive phosphorus limitation of tree species but not communities in tropical forests. Nature 555, 367–370 (2018).

  47. 47.

    Alvarez-Clare, S., Mack, M. C. & Brooks, M. A direct test of nitrogen and phosphorus limitation to net primary productivity in a lowland tropical wet forest. Ecology 94, 1540–1551 (2013).

  48. 48.

    Lindenmayer, D. B. & Laurance, W. F. The ecology, distribution, conservation and management of large old trees. Biol. Rev. 92, 1434–1458 (2017).

  49. 49.

    Blair, D. P., McBurney, L. M., Blanchard, W., Banks, S. C. & Lindenmayer, D. B. Disturbance gradient shows logging affects plant functional groups more than fire. Ecol. Appl. 26, 2280–2301 (2016).

  50. 50.

    Keenan, R. J. & Nitschke, C. Forest management options for adaptation to climate change: a case study of tall, wet eucalypt forests in Victoria’s Central Highlands region. Aust. For. 79, 96–107 (2016).

  51. 51.

    Mackey, B., Lindenmayer, D., Gill, M., McCarthy, M. & Lindesay, J. Wildlife, Fire and Future Climate: A Forest Ecosystem Analysis (CSIRO Publishing, Collingwood, 2002).

  52. 52.

    Ough, K. & Murphy, A. Decline in tree-fern abundance after clearfell harvesting. For. Ecol. Manage. 199, 153–163 (2004).

  53. 53.

    Lindenmayer, D. B. & Franklin, J. F. Managing stand structure as part of ecologically sustainable forest management in Australian mountain ash forests. Conserv. Biol. 11, 1053–1068 (1997).

  54. 54.

    Lindenmayer, D. B. & Ough, K. Salvage logging in the montane ash eucalypt forests of the Central Highlands of Victoria and its potential impacts on biodiversity. Conserv. Biol. 20, 1005–1015 (2006).

  55. 55.

    Flint, A., Fagg, P. Mountain Ash in Victoria’s State Forests (Victoria Department of Sustainability and Environment, East Melbourne, 2007).

  56. 56.

    Native Vegetation Quality Assessment Manual: Guidelines for Applying the Habitat Hectares Scoring Method 53 (Victorian State Government, 2004).

  57. 57.

    Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations World Reference Base for Soil Resources 2014 International Soil Classification System for Naming Soils and Creating Legends for Soil Maps Update 2015 (United Nations, 2015).

  58. 58.

    Dupuch, A. & Fortin, D. The extent of edge effects increases during post-harvesting forest succession. Biol. Conserv. 162, 9–16 (2013).

  59. 59.

    Barrett, L. G., Bever, J. D., Bissett, A. & Thrall, P. H. Partner diversity and identity impacts on plant productivity in Acacia–rhizobial interactions. J. Ecol. 103, 130–142 (2015).

  60. 60.

    Indorante, S. J., Follmer, L. R., Hammer, R. D. & Koenig, P. G. Particle-size analysis by a modified pipetted procedure. Soil Sci. Soc. Am. J. Abstr. 54, 560–563 (1990).

  61. 61.

    Rayment, G. E. & Lyons, D. J. Soil Chemical Methods - Australasia (CSIRO Publishing, 2010).

  62. 62.

    CSBP Laboratory Methods (CSBP Fertilisers, 2015).

  63. 63.

    Colwell, J. D. An automatic procedure for the determination of phosphorus in sodium hydrogen carbonate extracts of soils. Chem. Ind. 1965, 893–895 (1965).

  64. 64.

    Blair, G. J., Chinoim, N., Lefroy, R. D. B., Anderson, G. C. & Cricker, G. J. A soil sulfur test for pastures and crops. Soil Res. 29, 619–626 (1991).

  65. 65.

    Walkley, A. & Black, I. A. An examination of the Degtjareff method for determining organic carbon in soils: effect of variations in digestion conditions and of inorganic soil constituents. Soil Sci. 63, 251–263 (1934).

Download references

Acknowledgements

The authors thank the Victorian Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning and Parks Victoria for granting access to restricted sites, volunteers who assisted in data collection, A. Bissett for methodological advice, W. Blanchard for statistical advice, and the following groups for funding: the Paddy Pallin Foundation, Centre of Biodiversity Analysis, the Ecological Society of Australia and the Holsworth Wildlife Research Endowment fund.

Author information

Affiliations

  1. Fenner School of Environment and Society, The Australian National University, Canberra, Australian Capital Territory, Australia

    • Elle J. Bowd
    • , Craig L. Strong
    •  & David B. Lindenmayer
  2. Research Institute for Environment and Livelihoods, College of Engineering, IT and the Environment, Charles Darwin University, Darwin, Northern Territory, Australia

    • Sam C. Banks

Authors

  1. Search for Elle J. Bowd in:

  2. Search for Sam C. Banks in:

  3. Search for Craig L. Strong in:

  4. Search for David B. Lindenmayer in:

Contributions

E.J.B. conducted data collection and statistical analyses, and led the writing of the manuscript and experimental design of this study. D.B.L. contributed to the experimental design of this study and manuscript editing. S.C.B. contributed to statistical analysis, experimental design and manuscript editing. C.L.S. contributed to manuscript editing.

Competing interests

The authors declare no competing interests.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Elle J. Bowd.

Supplementary information

  1. Supplementary Information

    Supplementary Description, Supplementary Fig. 1 and Tables 1–7

About this article

Publication history

Received

Accepted

Published

Issue Date

DOI

https://doi.org/10.1038/s41561-018-0294-2

Further reading