Variation in the structure of ground fuels, i.e. the moss and litter (M/L) layer, may be an important control on fire severity in heather moorlands and thus influence vegetation regeneration and soil carbon dynamics. We completed experimental fires in a Calluna vulgaris-dominated heathland to study the role of the M/L layer in determining (i) fire-induced temperature pulses into the soil and (ii) post-fire soil thermal dynamics. Manually removing the M/L layer before burning increased fire-induced soil heating, both at the soil surface and 2 cm below. Burnt plots where the M/L layer was removed simulated the fuel structure after high severity fires where ground fuels are consumed but the soil does not ignite. Where the M/L layer was manually removed, either before or after the fire, post-fire soil thermal dynamics showed larger diurnal and seasonal variation, as well as similar patterns to those observed after wildfires, compared to burnt plots where the M/L layer was not manipulated. We used soil temperatures to explore potential changes in post-fire soil respiration. Simulated high fire severity (where the M/L layer was manually removed) increased estimates of soil respiration in warm months. With projected fire regimes shifting towards higher severity fires, our results can help land managers develop strategies to balance ecosystem services in Calluna-dominated habitats.
Journal of Environmental Management – Elsevier
Published: Dec 15, 2017
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