, Volume 12, Issue 1, pp 57–72 | Cite as

Interactive Effects of Fire, Soil Climate, and Moss on CO2 Fluxes in Black Spruce Ecosystems of Interior Alaska

  • Jonathan A. O’DonnellEmail author
  • Merritt R. Turetsky
  • Jennifer W. Harden
  • Kristen L. Manies
  • Lee E. Pruett
  • Gordon Shetler
  • Jason C. Neff


Fire is an important control on the carbon (C) balance of the boreal forest region. Here, we present findings from two complementary studies that examine how fire modifies soil organic matter properties, and how these modifications influence rates of decomposition and C exchange in black spruce (Picea mariana) ecosystems of interior Alaska. First, we used laboratory incubations to explore soil temperature, moisture, and vegetation effects on CO2 and DOC production rates in burned and unburned soils from three study regions in interior Alaska. Second, at one of the study regions used in the incubation experiments, we conducted intensive field measurements of net ecosystem exchange (NEE) and ecosystem respiration (ER) across an unreplicated factorial design of burning (2 year post-fire versus unburned sites) and drainage class (upland forest versus peatland sites). Our laboratory study showed that burning reduced the sensitivity of decomposition to increased temperature, most likely by inducing moisture or substrate quality limitations on decomposition rates. Burning also reduced the decomposability of Sphagnum-derived organic matter, increased the hydrophobicity of feather moss-derived organic matter, and increased the ratio of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) to total dissolved nitrogen (TDN) in both the upland and peatland sites. At the ecosystem scale, our field measurements indicate that the surface organic soil was generally wetter in burned than in unburned sites, whereas soil temperature was not different between the burned and unburned sites. Analysis of variance results showed that ER varied with soil drainage class but not by burn status, averaging 0.9 ± 0.1 and 1.4 ± 0.1 g C m−2 d−1 in the upland and peatland sites, respectively. However, a more complex general linear model showed that ER was controlled by an interaction between soil temperature, moisture, and burn status, and in general was less variable over time in the burned than in the unburned sites. Together, findings from these studies across different spatial scales suggest that although fire can create some soil climate conditions more conducive to rapid decomposition, rates of C release from soils may be constrained following fire by changes in moisture and/or substrate quality that impede rates of decomposition.


fire carbon fluxes boreal forest decomposition Alaska climate change 



We thank Jamie Hollingsworth for his assistance in the field. We also thank Evan Kane, Mark Waldrop, Mike Waddington, and two anonymous reviewers who provided valuable comments on the manuscript. This research was funded by the United States Geological Survey, the Bonanza Creek LTER (Long-Term Ecological Research) program (funded jointly by NSF grant DEB-0423442 and USGS Forest Service, Pacific Northwest Research Station grant PNW01-JV11261952-231).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan A. O’Donnell
    • 1
    Email author
  • Merritt R. Turetsky
    • 2
    • 3
  • Jennifer W. Harden
    • 3
  • Kristen L. Manies
    • 3
  • Lee E. Pruett
    • 3
  • Gordon Shetler
    • 4
  • Jason C. Neff
    • 5
  1. 1.Biology & Wildlife DepartmentUniversity of Alaska FairbanksFairbanksUSA
  2. 2.Department of Integrative BiologyUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  3. 3.United States Geological SurveyMenlo ParkUSA
  4. 4.Department of Plant BiologyMichigan State UniversityEast LansingUSA
  5. 5.Geological Sciences and Environmental StudiesUniversity of Colorado at BoulderBoulderUSA

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