Sustained biogeochemical impacts of wildfire in a mountain lake catchment

Evans, C.D.; Malcolm, I.A.; Shilland, E.M.; Rose, N.L.; Turner, S.D.; Crilly, A.; Norris, D.; Granath, G.; Monteith, D.T.. 2017 Sustained biogeochemical impacts of wildfire in a mountain lake catchment. Ecosystems, 20 (4). 813-829.

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Wild and prescribed fires can cause severe deterioration in water quality, including increases in sediment, nutrients and dissolved organic carbon (DOC). Due to the unpredictability of wildfires, few studies have been able to employ before-after, control-intervention experimental designs, or to evaluate fire-induced water-quality changes in the context of long-term datasets. Here, we present data from a lake draining a moorland catchment in the United Kingdom, part of a 22-site, 25 year monitoring network, which experienced a major wildfire in 2011. The main water-quality response was a large, sustained increase in nitrate concentrations, sufficient to raise acidity and aluminium concentrations, effectively reversing over a decade of recovery from the effects of acid deposition. Concurrently, we observed a clear reduction in DOC concentrations, contrasting with prescribed fire studies from similar ecosystems (none based on before-after studies) that have suggested that burning causes DOC to increase. However, data from a downstream water supply reservoir do suggest a fire-induced change in DOC quality towards more soil-derived aromatic organic compounds, and lake sediment data suggest a large increase in particulate organic carbon. We conclude that the biogeochemical responses to wildfire in our moorland catchment were broadly similar to those observed in forest ecosystems elsewhere, but that historically high nitrogen deposition has made the ecosystem particularly susceptible to nitrate leaching and (re-)acidification. The observed reduction in DOC concentrations casts some doubt on the widely held view that prescribed burning in moorland systems has contributed to long-term DOC increases.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Emmett
ISSN: 1432-9840
Additional Keywords: wildfire, dissolved organic carbo,n nitrogen, water quality, heathland, acidity, drinking water supply, long-term trends, prescribed fire
NORA Subject Terms: Ecology and Environment
Date made live: 26 Apr 2017 09:55 +0 (UTC)

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