Rapid Recovery of Gross Production and Respiration in a Mesic Mountain Big Sagebrush Ecosystem Following Prescribed Fire
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The impact of land management actions such as prescribed fire remains a key uncertainty in understanding the spatiotemporal patterns of carbon cycling in the Western USA. We therefore quantified carbon exchange and aboveground carbon stocks following a prescribed fire in a mountain big sagebrush ecosystem located in the northern Great Basin, USA. Specifically, we examined the changes in plant functional type, leaf area index, standing aboveground carbon stocks, net ecosystem production (NEP), gross ecosystem production (GEP), and ecosystem-level respiration (Reco) for 2 years before and 7 of 9 years after a prescribed fire. Post-burn GEP and Reco exceeded pre-burn GEP and Reco within 2 years and remained elevated. The variation in GEP and Reco provided no evidence of a large and prolonged net efflux of carbon in the 9 years after the fire. Rather, NEP indicated the site was a sink before and after the fire, with little change in sink strength associated with the burn. Re-sprouting and recruitment of grasses and forbs drove the post-burn increase in GEP. Woody shrub growth was the dominant control on aboveground biomass accumulation after fire, with shrub aboveground biomass reaching ~ 11% of pre-burn biomass after 5 years. The rapid recovery of GEP and the growth of mid-successional shrubs suggest ecosystem-level carbon fluxes and stocks can recover rapidly after fire in mesic mountain big sagebrush ecosystems.
Keywordscarbon cycle prescribed fire ecosystem disturbance sagebrush shrubland semiarid ecosystems Great Basin
We thank the Owyhee Field Office and Idaho State Office of the USDI Bureau of Land Management for conducting the prescribed fire within the Upper Sheep Creek catchment. We thank Alex Boehm for his field work and discussions on the Upper Sheep Creek fire and George Azzari for providing the Landsat imagery used in this study. This research was performed in collaboration between the United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service, Northwest Watershed Research Center in Boise, Idaho, and the landowners within the Reynolds Creek Critical Zone Observatory. This work was supported by the National Science Foundation for the Reynolds Creek Critical Zone Observatory Cooperative agreement under award #NSF EAR 1331872. USDA is an equal opportunity provider and employer.
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