Plant and Soil

, Volume 371, Issue 1–2, pp 521–531 | Cite as

Long-term retention of post-fire soil mineral nitrogen pools in Mediterranean shrubland and grassland

Regular Article


Background and Aims

The post-fire mineral N pool is relevant for plant regrowth. Depending on the plant regeneration strategies, this pool can be readily used or lost from the plant–soil system. Here we studied the retention of the post-fire mineral N pool in the system over a period of 12 years in three contrasted Mediterranean plant communities.


Three types of vegetation (grassland, mixed shrub-grassland and shrubland) were subjected to experimental fires. We then monitored the fate of 15 N-tracer applied to the mineral N pool in soils and in plants over 12 years.


The plant community with legumes (mixed shrub-grasslands) showed the lowest soil retention of 15 N-tracer during the first 9 months after fire. Between years 6 and 12 post-fire, a drought promoted plant and litter deposition. Coinciding with this period, 15 N-recovery in the first 15 cm of the soil increased in all cases, except in mixed shrub-grassland. This lack of increase may be attributable to the input of impoverished 15 N plant residues and enhanced leaching and denitrification, possibly by N2-fixing shrubs. After the drought, the deepest soil layer showed large decreases in total N and 15 N-recovery, which were possibly caused by N mineralization.


Twelve years after the fires, plant communities without N2-fixing shrubs recycled a significant part of the N derived from the post-fire mineral N and this pool continued to interact in the plant–soil system.


15N-recovery Drought Soil organic C Soil N Legume N2-fixing plant 



We thank Maximilian Fuetterer and Dr. Núria Gómez-Casanovas for comments on the manuscript. This research was supported by the projects Lindeco (CGL2009-13497-CO2-02), GRACCIE (CSD2007-00067), from the Spanish Ministry of Science and Technology, and the GHG-Europe project (FP7-ENV-2009-1, project no. 244122), from the European Commission. Pere Casals is supported by a Ramón y Cajal Contract (Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad, Spain).


  1. Almendros G, Martín F, González-Vila FJ (1988) Effects of fire on humic and lipid fractions in a dystric xerochrept in Spain. Geoderma 42(2):115–127CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Almendros G, González-Vila FJ, Martín F (1990) Fire-induced transformation of soil organic-matter from an oak forest - an experimental approach to the effects of fire on humic substances. Soil Sci 149(3):158–168CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Arianoutsou M, Thanos CA (1996) Legumes in the fire-prone Mediterranean regions: An example from Greece. Int J Wildland Fire 6(2):77–82CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Baggs EM, Rees RM, Smith KA, Vinten AJA (2000) Nitrous oxide emission from soils after incorporating crop residues. Soil Use Manage 16(2):82–87CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bell TL, Ojeda F (1999) Underground starch storage in Erica species of the Cape Floristic Region - differences between seeders and resprouters. New Phytol 144(1):143–152CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Binkley D, Cromack K, Fredriksen RL (1982) Nitrogen accretion and availability in some snowbrush ecosystems. For Sci 28(4):720–724Google Scholar
  7. Birouste M, Kazakou E, Blanchard A, Roumet C (2012) Plant traits and decomposition: Are the relationships for roots comparable to those for leaves? Ann Bot 109(2):463–472PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Casals P, Romanyà J, Vallejo VR (2005) Short-term nitrogen fixation by legume seedlings and resprouts after fire in Mediterranean old-fields. Biogeochemistry 76(3):477–501CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Castro A, González-Prieto SJ, Carballas T (2006) Burning effects on the distribution of organic N compounds in a N-15 labelled forest soil. Geoderma 130(1–2):97–107CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Chorover J, Vitousek PM, Everson DA, Esperanza AM, Turner D (1994) Solution chemistry profiles of mixed-conifer forests before and after fire. Biogeochemistry 26(2):115–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Christensen NL (1973) Fire and nitrogen cycle in California chaparral. Science 181(4094):66–68PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Covington WW, Sackett SS (1992) Soil mineral nitrogen changes following prescribed burning in ponderosa pine. For Ecol Manage 54(1–4):175–191CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Crews TE (1999) The presence of nitrogen fixing legumes in terrestrial communities: Evolutionary vs ecological considerations. Biogeochemistry 46(1–3):233–246Google Scholar
  14. Duguy B, Rovira P, Vallejo VR (2007) Land-use history and fire effects on soil fertility in eastern Spain. Eur J Soil Sci 58(1):83–91CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. FAO-UNESCO (1988) Soil map of the world. Revised legend. World Soil Resources, Report 60, FAO, RomaGoogle Scholar
  16. Fisher RF, Binkley D (2000) Ecology and management of forest soils. Ecology and management of forest soils. (Ed.3): xviii + 489 pp.Google Scholar
  17. Goebel M, Hobbie SE, Bulaj B, Zadworny M, Archibald DD, Oleksyn J, Reich PB, Eissenstat DM (2011) Decomposition of the finest root branching orders: Linking belowground dynamics to fine-root function and structure. Ecol Monogr 81(1):89–102CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. González-Pérez JA, González-Vila FJ, Almendros G, Knicker H (2004) The effect of fire on soil organic matter - a review. Environ Int 30(6):855–870PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Grady KC, Hart SC (2006) Influences of thinning, prescribed burning, and wildfire on soil processes and properties in southwestern ponderosa pine forests: A retrospective study. For Ecol Manage 234(1–3):123–135CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Guillon D, Rapp M (1989) Nutrient losses during a winter lowintensity prescribed fire in a Mediterranean forest. Plant Soil 120:69–77CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hendricks JJ, Boring LR (1999) N-2-fixation by native herbaceous legumes in burned pine ecosystems of the southeastern United States. For Ecol Manage 113(2–3):167–177CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Huang Y, Zou JW, Zheng XH, Wang YS, Xu XK (2004) Nitrous oxide emissions as influenced by amendment of plant residues with different C:N ratios. Soil Biol Biochem 36(6):973–981CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Johnson DW, Curtis PS (2001) Effects of forest management on soil C and N storage: Meta analysis. For Ecol Manage 140(2–3):227–238CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Johnson DW, Susfalk RB, Caldwell TG, Murphy JD, Miller WW, Walker RF (2004) Fire effects on carbon and nitrogen budgets in forests. Water, Air, and Soil Pollution:Focus 4:263–275CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Knicker H (2007) How does fire affect the nature and stability of soil organic nitrogen and carbon? A review. Biogeochemistry 85(1):91–118CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Knicker H (2010) “Black nitrogen” - an important fraction in determining the recalcitrance of charcoal. Org Geochem 41(9):947–950CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Knicker H (2011) Soil organic N - an under-rated player for C sequestration in soils? Soil Biol Biochem 43(6):1118–1129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Knicker H, González-Vila FJ, Polvillo O, González JA, Almendros G (2005) Fire-induced transformation of C- and N-forms in different organic soil fractions from a dystric cambisol under a Mediterranean pine forest (Pinus pinaster). Soil Biol Biochem 37(4):701–718CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Kuzyakov Y, Friedel JK, Stahr K (2000) Review of mechanisms and quantification of priming effects. Soil Biol Biochem 32(11–12):1485–1498CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Levine JS, Cofer WR III, Sebacher DI (1988) The effects of fire on biogenic soil emissions of nitric oxide and nitrous oxide. Global Biogeochem Cy 2:445–449CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Mackensen J, Holscher D, Klinge R, Folster H (1996) Nutrient transfer to the atmosphere by burning of debris in eastern Amazonia. For Ecol Manage 86(1–3):121–128CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. MacKenzie MD, DeLuca TH (2006) Resin adsorption of carbon and nitrogen as influenced by season and time since fire. Soil Sci Soc Am J 70(6):2122–2129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Madritch MD, Cardinale BJ (2007) Impacts of tree species diversity on litter decomposition in northern temperate forests of Wisconsin, USA: A multi-site experiment along a latitudinal gradient. Plant Soil 292(1–2):147–159CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Martí-Roura M, Casals P, Romanyà J (2011) Temporal changes in soil organic C under Mediterranean shrubland and grasslands: Impact of fire and drought. Plant Soil 338(1–2):289–300CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Millar N, Ndufa JK, Cadisch G, Baggs EM (2004) Nitrous oxide emissions following incorporation of improved-fallow residues in the humid tropics. Global Biogeochem Cy 18(1), GB1032CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Murphy JD, Johnson DW, Miller WW, Walker RF, Carroll EF, Blank RR (2006) Wildfire effects on soil nutrients and leaching in a tahoe basin watershed. J Environ Qual 35(2):479–489PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Neary DG, Klopatek CC, DeBano LF, Ffolliott PF (1999) Fire effects on belowground sustainability: A review and synthesis. For Ecol Manage 122(1–2):51–71CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Ojima DS, Schimel DS, Parton WJ, Owensby CE (1994) Long-term and short-term effects of fire on nitrogen cycling in tallgrass prairie. Biogeochemistry 24(2):67–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Perakis SS, Sinkhorn ER, Compton JE (2011) Delta(15)N constraints on long-term nitrogen balances in temperate forests. Oecologia 167(3):793–807PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Polglase PJ, Attiwill PM, Adams MA (1992) Nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in relation to stand age of eucalyptus-regnans F-muell.2. N-mineralization and nitrification. Plant Soil 142(2):167–176CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Pregitzer KS, DeForest JL, Burton AJ, Allen MF, Ruess RW, Hendrick RL (2002) Fine root architecture of nine North American trees. Ecol Monogr 72(2):293–309CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Prieto-Fernández A, Carballas M, Carballas T (2004) Inorganic and organic N pools in soils burned or heated: Immediate alterations and evolution after forest wildfires. Geoderma 121(3–4):291–306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Raison RJ (1979) Modification of the soil environment by vegetation fires, with particular reference to nitrogen transformations - review. Plant Soil 51(1)Google Scholar
  44. Raison RJ, Khannna PK, Jacobsen KLS, Romanyà J, Serrasolses I (2009) Effect of fire on forest nutrient cycles. In: Cerdà A, Robichaud PR (eds) Fire effects on soils and restoration strategies. Science Publishers, Enfield, pp 225–256CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Rapp M (1990) Nitrogen status and mineralization in natural and disturbed Mediterranean forests and coppices. Plant Soil 128(1):21–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Romanyà J, Casals P, Vallejo VR (2001) Short-term effects of fire on soil nitrogen availability in Mediterranean grasslands and shrubland growing in old fields. For Ecol Manage 147(1):39–53CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Rovira P, Romanyà J, Duguy B (2012) Long-term effects of wildfires on the biochemical quality of soil organic matter: A study on Mediterranean shrubland. Geoderma 179:9–19CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Seely B, Lajtha K (1997) Application of a N-15 tracer to simulate and track the fate of atmospherically deposited N in the coastal forests of the Waquoit Bay Watershed, Cape Cod, Massachusetts. Oecologia 112(3):393–402CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Thornthwaite CW, Mather JR (1957) Instructions and tables for computing potential evapotranspiration and the water balance. Publ Climatol 10:205–241Google Scholar
  50. Vandermeer J (1989) The ecology of intercropping. Cambridge Univ. Press,Google Scholar
  51. Vandermeer JH (1990) Intercropping. In: Carrol CR, Vandermeer JH, Rosset OM (ed) Agroecology. McGraw Hill, pp 481–516Google Scholar
  52. Verdaguer D, Ojeda F (2002) Root starch storage and allocation patterns in seeder and resprouter seedlings of two Cape Erica (Ericaceae) species. Am J Bot 89(8):1189–1196PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Vitousek PM, Howarth RW (1991) Nitrogen limitation on land and in the sea - how can it occur? Biogeochemistry 13(2):87–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Wells CG (1971) Effects of prescribed burning on soil chemical properties and nutrient availability. Proceedings of symposium on prescribed burning. USDA Forest Service South-eastern Forest Experiment Station, Asheville, pp 86–99Google Scholar
  55. Weston CJ, Attiwill PM (1990) Effects of fire and harvesting on nitrogen transformations and ionic mobility in soils of eucalyptus-regnans forests of south-eastern Australia. Oecologia 83(1):20–26CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Zhong Z, Nelson LM, Lemke RL (2011) Nitrous oxide emissions from grain legumes as affected by wetting/drying cycles and crop residues. Biol Fertility Soils 47(6):687–699CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Mireia Martí-Roura
    • 1
  • Pere Casals
    • 2
  • Joan Romanyà
    • 1
  1. 1.Departament de Productes Naturals, Biologia Vegetal i EdafologiaUniversitat de BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Centre Tecnològic Forestal de CatalunyaSolsonaSpain

Personalised recommendations