, Volume 105, Issue 1–3, pp 105–118 | Cite as

Phosphorus cycling in a small watershed in the Brazilian Cerrado: impacts of frequent burning

  • Júlio Carlos França Resende
  • Daniel Markewitz
  • Carlos Augusto Klink
  • Mercedes Maria da Cunha Bustamante
  • Eric A. Davidson


Plant productivity in many tropical savannas is phosphorus limited. The biogeochemical cycling of P in these ecosystems, however, has not been well quantified. In the present study, we characterized P stocks and fluxes in a well-preserved small watershed in the Brazilian Cerrado. As the Cerrado is also a fire-dominated ecosystem, we measured the P stocks and fluxes in a cerrado stricto sensu plot with complete exclusion of fire for 26 years (unburned plot) and then tested some predictions about the impacts of fire impacts on P cycling in an experimental plot that was burned three times since 1992 (burned plot). The unburned area is an ecosystem with large soil stocks of total P (1,151 kg ha−1 up to 50 cm depth), but the largest fraction is in an occluded form. Readily extractable P was found up to 3 m soil depth suggesting that deep soil is more important to the P cycle than has been recognized. The P stock in belowground biomass (0–800 cm) was 9.9 kg ha−1. Decomposition of fine litter released 0.97 kg P ha−1 year−1. Fluxes of P through bulk atmospheric deposition, throughfall and litter leachate were very low (0.008, 0.006 and 0.028 kg ha−1 year−1, respectively) as was stream export (0.001 kg ha−1 year−1). Immobilization of P by microbes during the rainy season seems to be an important mechanism of P conservation in this ecosystem. Fire significantly increased P flux in litter leachate to 0.11 kg ha−1 year−1, and added 1.2 kg ha−1 of P in ash deposition after fire. We found an increase of P concentration in soil solution at 100 cm depth (from 0.03 μg l−1 in unburned plot to 0.3 μg l−1 in the burned plot). In surface soils (0–10 cm) of the burned plot, fire decreased the concentrations of extractable organic-P fractions, but did not significantly increase inorganic-P fractions. The reduction of extractable soil organic P in the burned plot in topsoil and the increase of P in the soil solution at greater depths indicated a reduction of P availability and may increase P fixation in deep soils. Repeated fire events over the long term may result in significant net loss of available forms of phosphorus from this ecosystem.


Nutrient cycling Savanna Prescribed burning P sequential extraction Stream chemistry 



The authors would like to acknowledge the assistance of Maria Regina Sartori da Silva, Hanry Coelho and Zayra Prado in field and laboratory work. The authors would like to acknowledge the support of laboratory of Plant and Soil Analyses of EMBRAPA Cerrados. The first author received scholarship from CNPq/Brazil through the Graduate Program in Ecology of the UnB. Financial support was provided by PELD/CNPq Program, Fundação de Apoio a Pesquisa do Distrito Federal (FAP/DF), A. W. Mellon Foundation, IAI/CRN 040, EPA Assistance Agreement CR827291 (LBA-ND-07), Grant No. NCC5-332 and S-10135-X of NASA’s Terrestrial Ecology Program/LBA. This paper has been reviewed in accordance with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s peer and administrative review policies and approved for publication. Mention of trade names or commercial products does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation for use by the U.S. EPA.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Júlio Carlos França Resende
    • 1
  • Daniel Markewitz
    • 2
  • Carlos Augusto Klink
    • 1
  • Mercedes Maria da Cunha Bustamante
    • 1
  • Eric A. Davidson
    • 3
  1. 1.Departamento de EcologiaUniversidade de BrasíliaBrasíliaBrazil
  2. 2.Daniel B. Warnell School of Forest ResourcesThe University of GeorgiaAthensUSA
  3. 3.The Woods Hole Research CenterFalmouthUSA

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