Wildfire changes the spatial pattern of soil nutrient availability in Pinus canariensis forests
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Soil resources are heterogeneously distributed in terrestrial plant communities. This heterogeneity is important because it determines the availability of local soil resources. A forest fire may change the spatial distribution of soil nutrients, affecting nutrition and survival of colonizing plants. However, specific information on the effects of ecosystem disturbance on the spatial distribution of soil resources is scarce. We hypothesized that, on a short-term basis, wildfire would change the spatial patterns of soil N and P availability. To test this hypothesis, we selected two Pinus canariensis forests burned in 2005 and 2000, respectively, and a third forest that was unburned since at least 1990 (unburned). We incubated ionic exchange membranes (IEMs) in replicated plots to estimate soil N and P availability and characterized the spatial pattern using SADIE (Spatial Analysis by Distance Indices). Mineral N, NO3-N and PO4-P availability, and aggregation and cluster indices for all nutrients were higher in the 2005 wildfire plots than in the 2000 wildfire and unburned plots. Our results suggest that surviving plants or new individuals becoming established in a burned area would find higher soil resources, but also higher small-scale heterogeneity in nutrients, which may have a major impact on the performance of individual plants and on the forest structure and dynamics.