Articles | Volume 12, issue 21
Biogeosciences, 12, 6279–6290, 2015
Biogeosciences, 12, 6279–6290, 2015

Research article 03 Nov 2015

Research article | 03 Nov 2015

Impacts of prescribed burning on soil greenhouse gas fluxes in a suburban native forest of south-eastern Queensland, Australia

Y. Zhao1,2,*, Y. Z. Wang1,3,*, Z. H. Xu1, and L. Fu1,4 Y. Zhao et al.
  • 1Environmental Futures Research Institute and School of Natural Sciences, Griffith University, Nathan, Brisbane, Queensland 4111, Australia
  • 2Institute of Geographical Sciences and Natural Resources Research, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • 3Key Laboratory of Pollution Processes and Environmental Criteria, College of Environmental Science and Engineering, Nankai University, Tianjin 300071, China
  • 4Key Laboratory of Digital Earth Science, Institute of Remote Sensing and Digital Earth, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Beijing 100101, China
  • *These authors contributed equally to this work.

Abstract. Prescribed burning is a forest management practice that is widely used in Australia to reduce the risk of damaging wildfires. Prescribed burning can affect both carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling in the forest and thereby influence the soil-atmosphere exchange of major greenhouse gases, i.e. carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). To quantify the impact of a prescribed burning (conducted on 27 May 2014) on greenhouse gas exchange and the potential controlling mechanisms, we carried out a series of field measurements before (August 2013) and after (August 2014 and November 2014) the fire. Gas exchange rates were determined in four replicate plots which were burned during the combustion and in another four adjacent unburned plots located in green islands, using a set of static chambers. Surface soil properties including temperature, pH, moisture, soil C and N pools were also determined either by in situ measurement or by analysing surface 10 cm soil samples. All of the chamber measurements indicated a net sink of atmospheric CH4, with mean CH4 uptake ranging from 1.15 to 1.99 mg m−2 d−1. Prescribed burning significantly enhanced CH4 uptake as indicated by the significant higher CH4 uptake rates in the burned plots measured in August 2014. In the following 3 months, the CH4 uptake rate was recovered to the pre-burning level. Mean CO2 emission from the forest soils ranged from 2721.76 to 7113.49 mg m−2 d−1. The effect of prescribed burning on CO2 emission was limited within the first 3 months, as no significant difference was observed between the burned and the adjacent unburned plots in both August and November 2014. The CO2 emissions showed more seasonal variations, rather than the effects of prescribed burning. The N2O emission in the plots was quite low, and no significant impact of prescribed burning was observed. The changes in understory plants and litter layers, surface soil temperature, C and N substrate availability and microbial activities, following the prescribed burning, were the factors that controlled the greenhouse gas exchanges. Our results suggested that the low-intensity prescribed burning would decrease soil CO2 emission and increase CH4 uptake, but this effect would be present within a relatively short period. Only slight changes in the surface soil properties during the combustion and very limited impacts of prescribed burning on the mineral soils supported the rapid recovery of the greenhouse gas exchange rates.

Final-revised paper