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    Description

    Microbial-mediated decomposition and nutrient mineralization are major drivers of forest productivity. As landscape-scale fuel reduction treatments are being implemented throughout the fire-prone western United States of America, it is important to evaluate operationally how these wildfire mitigation treatments alter belowground processes. We quantified these important belowground components before and after management-applied fuel treatments of thinning alone, thinning combined with prescribed fire, and prescribed fire in ponderosa pine (Pinus ponderosa) stands at the Southwest Plateau, Fire and Fire Surrogate site, Arizona. Fuel treatments did not alter pH, total carbon and nitrogen (N) concentrations, or base cations of the forest floor (O horizon) or mineral soil (0-5 cm) during this 2-year study. In situ rates of net N mineralization and nitrification in the surface mineral soil (0-15 cm) increased 6 months after thinning with prescribed fire treatments; thinning only resulted in net N immobilization. The rates returned to pre-treatment levels after one year. Based on phospholipid fatty acid composition, microbial communities in treated areas were similar to untreated areas (control) in the surface organic horizon and mineral soil (0-5 cm) after treatments. Soil potential enzyme activities were not significantly altered by any of the three fuel treatments. Our results suggest that a variety of one-time alternative fuel treatments can reduce fire hazard without degrading soil fertility.

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    Citation

    Overby, Steven T.; Hart, Stephen C. 2016. Short-term belowground responses to thinning and burning treatments in southwestern ponderosa pine forests of the USA. Forests. 7(2).

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    Keywords

    fuel treatments, nitrification, nitrogen mineralization, phospholipid fatty acids, soil enzymes

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