, Volume 104, Issue 1–3, pp 251–265 | Cite as

Wildfire reduces carbon dioxide efflux and increases methane uptake in ponderosa pine forest soils of the southwestern USA

  • Benjamin W. Sullivan
  • Thomas E. Kolb
  • Stephen C. Hart
  • Jason P. Kaye
  • Bruce A. Hungate
  • Sabina Dore
  • Mario Montes-Helu


Severe wildfire may cause long-term changes in the soil-atmosphere exchange of carbon dioxide and methane, two gases known to force atmospheric warming. We examined the effect of a severe wildfire 10 years after burning to determine decadal-scale changes in soil gas fluxes following fire, and explored mechanisms responsible for these dynamics. We compared soil carbon dioxide efflux, methane uptake, soil temperature, soil water content, soil O horizon mass, fine root mass, and microbial biomass between a burned site and an unburned site that had similar stand conditions to the burned site before the fire. Compared to the unburned site, soil carbon dioxide efflux was 40% lower and methane uptake was 49% higher at the burned site over the 427-day measurement period. Soil O horizon mass, microbial biomass, fine root mass, and surface soil water content were lower at the burned site than the unburned site, but soil temperature was higher. A regression model showed soil carbon dioxide efflux was more sensitive to changes in soil temperature at the burned site than the unburned site. The relative importance of methane uptake to carbon dioxide efflux was higher at the burned site than the unburned site, but methane uptake compensated for only 1.5% of the warming potential of soil carbon dioxide efflux at the burned site. Our results suggest there was less carbon available at the burned site for respiration by plants and microbes, and the loss of the soil O horizon increased methane uptake in soil at the burned site.


Carbon Methane uptake Microbial biomass Pinus ponderosa Soil CO2 efflux Wildfire 



This research was supported by the North American Carbon Program/USDA CREES NRI (2004-35111-15057), the National Science Foundation NRI Program (DBI-0216471), and the Mission Research Program at the Northern Arizona University School of Forestry (McIntire-Stennis/AZ Bureau of Forestry). We are grateful to the Northern Arizona University Centennial Forest and the Coconino National Forest for use of their lands for our research. We thank G. Koch for constructive comments on this manuscript and S. Eckert, N. Breece, and M. Luce for field and laboratory assistance.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Benjamin W. Sullivan
    • 1
  • Thomas E. Kolb
    • 1
    • 2
  • Stephen C. Hart
    • 3
  • Jason P. Kaye
    • 4
  • Bruce A. Hungate
    • 2
    • 5
  • Sabina Dore
    • 1
  • Mario Montes-Helu
    • 1
  1. 1.School of ForestryNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  2. 2.Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental ResearchNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA
  3. 3.School of Natural Sciences and Sierra Nevada Research InstituteUniversity of California, MercedMercedUSA
  4. 4.Department of Crop and Soil SciencesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  5. 5.Department of Biological SciencesNorthern Arizona UniversityFlagstaffUSA

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