Fire Frequency Impacts Soil Properties and Processes in Sagebrush Steppe Ecosystems of the Columbia Basin

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There is uncertainty about the magnitude of change semi-arid soils experience as they are exposed to more fires.

University and USGS researchers evaluated how increased fire frequency affects soil physicochemical properties, such as soil pH and soil organic carbon, as well as processes, such as microbial and enzymatic activity, in a sagebrush-steppe ecosystem in Washington. They studied soils from once (2012), twice (2003 and 2012), and thrice (2003, 2007, and 2012) burned areas to test if increasing fire frequency will exacerbate the impact of fire on soil. Overall findings suggest that a one-time fire significantly changes soil physicochemical attributes and microbially driven processes. With sufficient time between fires, these structural and functional properties can partially recover, persisting even after a second fire, but a third fire at a shorter time interval creates an additional disturbance. Furthermore, while soil carbon pools and microbial decomposition processes were able to recover with sufficient time, fire is still likely to reduce ecosystem stability.

Nichols, L., Shinneman, D.J., McIlroy, S.K., de Graaff, M., 2021, Fire frequency impacts soil properties and processes in sagebrush steppe ecosystems of the Columbia Basin: Applied Soil Ecology, v. 165, p. 103967,

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Date published: November 28, 2017
Status: Active

Restoration and Ecology of Arid Lands Team (FRESC)

The focus of our research is on the restoration and monitoring of the plants and soils of the Intermountain West. Our lab is part of the Snake River Field Station, but is located in Corvallis, Oregon. Research topics include fire rehabilitation effects and effectiveness, indicators of rangeland health, invasive species ecology, and restoration of shrub steppe ecosystems.

Contacts: David A Pyke