Plant and Soil

, Volume 386, Issue 1–2, pp 47–64 | Cite as

Effect of repeated burning on plant and soil carbon and nitrogen in cheatgrass (Bromus tectorum) dominated ecosystems

  • Rachel JonesEmail author
  • Jeanne C. Chambers
  • Dale W. Johnson
  • Robert R. Blank
  • David I. Board
Regular Article


Background and Aims

Fire has profound effects on ecosystem properties, but few studies have addressed the effect of repeated burns on soil nutrients, and none have been conducted in cold desert ecosystems where invasion by exotic annual grasses is resulting in greater fire frequency.


In a 5 year study, we examined effects of repeated burning, litter removal, and post-fire seeding on carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) contents in soils, litter, and vegetation in a cheatgrass-dominated Wyoming big sagebrush ecological type. We developed a multivariate model to identify potential mechanisms influencing treatment effects and examine the influence of environmental factors such as precipitation and temperature.


We found that repeated burning had strong negative effects on litter C and N contents, but did not reduce soil nutrients or vegetation C and N contents, likely due to cool fire temperatures. There were few effects of litter removal or post-fire seeding. Instead, precipitation and temperature interacted with burning and had the strongest influences on soil N and vegetation C and N contents over time.


Management strategies aimed at decreasing litter and seed banks and increasing competitive interactions may be more effective at reducing cheatgrass success than approaches for reducing soil nutrients.


Cold desert Invasive annual grasses Repeated fire Restoration Sagebrush Shrublands 



Total mineral nitrogen



This study was a collaborative effort among the USFS Rocky Mountain Research Station, University of Nevada, Reno, USDA Agricultural Research Service and Winnemucca District of the Nevada Bureau of Land Management. Research funding was provided through the Rocky Mountain Research Station. We thank T. Morgan, C. Rosner, C. Dencker, and a large number of summer technicians for valuable assistance in the field and lab, and B. Leger, P. Verburg, T. Albright, and B. Rau for valuable comments on earlier drafts of this manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Rachel Jones
    • 1
    Email author
  • Jeanne C. Chambers
    • 2
  • Dale W. Johnson
    • 3
  • Robert R. Blank
    • 4
  • David I. Board
    • 2
  1. 1.Ecology, Evolution and Conservation Biology Graduate Group, Department of Natural Resources & Environmental ScienceUniversity of Nevada, RenoRenoUSA
  2. 2.Rocky Mountain Research StationUS Forest ServiceRenoUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resources & Environmental ScienceUniversity of Nevada, RenoRenoUSA
  4. 4.USDA, Agricultural Research ServiceRenoUSA

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