pp 1–15 | Cite as

Retention of Nitrogen Following Wildfire in a Chaparral Ecosystem

  • Blair M. Goodridge
  • Erin J. Hanan
  • Rosana Aguilera
  • Erin B. Wetherley
  • Ying-Jung Chen
  • Carla M. D’Antonio
  • John M. Melack


Wildfires alter nitrogen (N) cycling in Mediterranean-type ecosystems, resetting plant and soil microbial growth, combusting plant biomass to ash, and enhancing N availability in the upper soil layer. This ash and soil N pool (that is, wildfire N) is susceptible to loss from watersheds via runoff and leaching during post-fire rains. Plant and soil microbial recovery may mitigate these losses by sequestering N compounds in new biomass, thereby promoting landscape N retention in N-limited chaparral ecosystems. We investigated the relative balance between wildfire N loss, and plant and soil microbial N uptake and stream N export for an upland chaparral watershed in southern California that burned (61%) in a high-intensity wildfire in 2009 by using a combination of stream, vegetation, soil microbial, and remote sensing analyses. Soil N in the burn scar was 440% higher than unburned soil N in the beginning of the first post-fire wet season and returned within 66 days to pre-fire levels. Stream N export was 1480% higher than pre-fire export during the first post-fire rain and returned within 106 days over the course of the following three rainstorms to pre-fire levels. A watershed-scale N mass balance revealed that 52% of wildfire N could be accounted for in plant and soil microbial growth, whereas 1% could be accounted for in stream export of dissolved nitrogen.


disturbance wildfire chaparral nitrogen soil stream 



This research was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Long-Term Ecological Research program (Grant Numbers OCE99-82105, OCE-0620276 and OCE-123277) and National Science Foundation’s RAPID program administered by the Division of Environmental Biology (Grant Number 0952599). We thank M. Meyerhof and undergraduate assistants for sample collections and laboratory analyses.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Blair M. Goodridge
    • 1
    • 2
  • Erin J. Hanan
    • 3
    • 4
  • Rosana Aguilera
    • 2
  • Erin B. Wetherley
    • 5
  • Ying-Jung Chen
    • 5
  • Carla M. D’Antonio
    • 6
  • John M. Melack
    • 2
    • 4
    • 7
  1. 1.Department of Environmental Science, Barnard CollegeColumbia UniversityNew YorkUSA
  2. 2.Marine Science InstituteUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  3. 3.Department of Civil and Environmental EngineeringWashington State UniversityPullmanUSA
  4. 4.Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Marine BiologyUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  5. 5.Department of GeographyUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  6. 6.Department of Environmental StudiesUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA
  7. 7.Bren School of Environmental Science and ManagementUniversity of California, Santa BarbaraSanta BarbaraUSA

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