The effect of fire intensity, nutrients, soil microbes, and spatial distance on grassland productivity
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Background and aims
Variation in fire intensity within an ecosystem is likely to moderate fire effects on plant and soil properties. We tested the effect of fire intensity on grassland biomass, soil microbial biomass, and soil nutrients. Additional tests determined plant-microbe, plant-nutrient, and microbe-nutrient associations.
A replicated field experiment produced a fire intensity gradient. We measured plant and soil microbial biomasses at peak plant productivity the first growing season after fire. We concurrently measured flux in 11 soil nutrients and soil moisture.
Fire intensity positively affected soil nitrogen, phosphorus (P), and zinc but did not appreciably affect plant biomass, microbial biomass, and other soil nutrients. Plant biomass was seemingly (co-)limited by boron, manganese, and P. Microbial biomass was (co-)limited mainly by P and also iron.
In the Northern Great Plains, plant and soil microbial biomasses were limited mainly by P and some micronutrients. Fire intensity affected soil nutrients, however, pulsed P (due to fire) did not result in appreciable fire intensity effects on plant and microbial biomasses. Variable responses in plant productivity to fire are common and indicate the complexity of factors that regulate plant production after fire.
KeywordsCo-limitation Ecosystem management Multiple regression Rangeland Semi-arid grassland
We thank D. Strong, A. Roth, P. Smith, M. Russell, C. Murphy, D. Correia, A. Marquez, M. Rout, and numerous summer interns and students between 2006 and 2013 for assistance in the field and laboratory. We thank D. Augustine and two anonymous reviewers for comments on an earlier version of the manuscript. This work was funded by USDA appropriated funds (CRIS # 5434-21630-003-00D). Mention of trade names or commercial products in this publication is solely for the purpose of providing specific information and does not imply recommendation or endorsement by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
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