, Volume 104, Issue 4, pp 397-408

Fire in the Brazilian Amazon: 1. Biomass, nutrient pools, and losses in slashed primary forests

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Abstract

Deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon has resulted in the conversion of >230,000 km2 of tropical forest, yet little is known on the quantities of biomass consumed or the losses of nutrients from the ecosystem. We quantified the above-ground biomass, nutrient pools and the effects of biomass burning in four slashed primary tropical moist forests in the Brazilian Amazon. Total above-ground biomass (TAGB) ranged from 292 Mg ha-1 to 436 Mg ha-1. Coarse wood debris (>20.5 cm diameter) was the dominant fuel component. However, structure of the four sites were variable. Coarse wood debris comprised from 44% to 69% of the TAGB, while the forest floor (litter and rootmat) comprised from 3.7 to 8.0% of the TAGB. Total biomass consumption ranged from 42% to 57%. Fires resulted in the consumption of >99% of the litter and rootmat, yet <50% of the coarse wood debirs. Dramatic losses in C, N, and S were quantified. Lesser quantities of P, K, and Ca were lost by combustion processes. Carbon losses from the ecosystem were 58–112 Mg ha-1. Nitrogen losses ranged from 817 to 1605 kg ha-1 and S losses ranged from 92 to 122 kg ha-1. This represents losses that are as high as 56%, 68%, and 49% of the total above-ground pools of these nutrients, respectively. Losses of P were as high as 20 kg ha-1 or 32% of the above-ground pool. Losses to the atmosphere arising from primary slash fires were variable among sites due to site differences in concentration, fuel biomass, and fuel structure, climatic fluctuations, and anthropogenic influences. Compared to fires in other forest ecosystems, fires in slashed primary tropical evergreen forests result in among the highest total losses of nutrients ever measured. In addition, the proportion of the total nutrient pool lost from slash fires is higher in this ecosystem compared to other ecosystems due to a higher percentage of nutrients stored in above-ground biomass.