Stream Nitrate Response to Different Burning Treatments in Southern Appalachian Forests

  • Authors: Clinton, Barton D.; Vose, James M.; Knoepp, Jennifer D.; Elliott, Katherine J.
  • Publication Year: 2003
  • Publication Series: Miscellaneous Publication
  • Source: Pages 174-181 in K.E.M. Galley, R.C. Klinger, and N.G Sugihara (eds.). Proceedings of Fire Conference 2000: The First National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management. Miscellaneous Publication No. 13, Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, FL

Abstract

Southern Appalachian forests are undergoing considerable change due to altered disturbance regimes. For example, fire exclusion has had a major impact on the structure and function of pine-hardwood ecosystems. Recently, fire has been prescribed for a variety of applications: 1) stand-replacement in the form of a mimicked wildfire, 2) site-preparation as part of a fell-and-burn prescription, and 3) understory burning for fuels reduction and wildlife habitat improvement. Assessing watershed-scale responses to burning requires identification of key parameters indicative of changes in structure and function. In the southern Appalachians, nitrogen in the form of NO3 is a key indicator of ecosystem change or response to disturbance. We compared stream NO3-N responses among stand-replacement fires (Winespring Creek and Hickory Branch), a fell-and-burn prescription (Jacobs Branch), and a wildfire in an old-growth deciduous forest (Joyce Kilmer). Nitrate-nitrogen concentration increased following two of the four fires. Concentrations following the fell-and- burn prescription fire increased from <0.01 to a maximum of 0.075 mg L-1 and remained elevated for 8 months. Similarly, stream NO3 concentration increased approximately 2 weeks following the old-growth deciduous wildfire from 0.04 to a maximum of 0.50 mg L-1 and remained elevated for 6 weeks. There were no significant differences in NO3 following one of the stand-replacement fires or between treatment and control or pre- and post-burn following the other stand-replacement fire due to maintenance of an unburned riparian area. Although the old-growth deciduous wildfire was essentially an understory burn, the magnitude of stream N response suggests that unavailable recalcitrant forms of N may have been released during the wildfire, as well as a reflection of the potential inefficiency of old-growth forests at sequestering mobilized nutrients. In all cases, hydrologic losses of NO3-N were insignificant with respect to effects on water quality and site depletion of N.

  • Citation: Clinton, Barton D.; Vose, James M.; Knoepp, Jennifer D.; Elliott, Katherine J. 2003. Stream Nitrate Response to Different Burning Treatments in Southern Appalachian Forests. Pages 174-181 in K.E.M. Galley, R.C. Klinger, and N.G Sugihara (eds.). Proceedings of Fire Conference 2000: The First National Congress on Fire Ecology, Prevention, and Management. Miscellaneous Publication No. 13, Tall Timbers Research Station, Tallahassee, FL
  • Keywords: disturbance, ecosystems, nitrate response, old growth, North Carolina, prescribed fire, resistance, riparian zone, southern Appalachia, stream
  • Posted Date: April 1, 1980
  • Modified Date: August 22, 2006
  • Requesting Print Publications

    Publication requests are subject to availability. Fiscal responsibility limits the hardcopies of publications we produce and distribute. Electronic versions of publications may be downloaded, distributed and printed.

    Please make any requests at pubrequest@fs.fed.us.

    Publication Notes

    • This article was written and prepared by U.S. Government employees on official time, and is therefore in the public domain.
    • Our online publications are scanned and captured using Adobe Acrobat. During the capture process some typographical errors may occur. Please contact the SRS webmaster if you notice any errors which make this publication unusable.
    • To view this article, download the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader.