Long-term decrease of organic and inorganic nitrogen concentrations due to pine forest wildfire
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Growing concerns about fires and the increase of fire frequency and severity due to climate change have stimulated a large number of scientific papers about fire ecology. Most researchers have focused on the short-term effects of fire, and the knowledge about the long-term consequences of fires on ecosystem nutrient dynamics is still scarce. Our aim was to improve the existing knowledge about the long-term effects of wildfires on forestlabile N concentrations. We hypothesized that fires may cause an initial decline in organic and inorganic N availability, and in the amount of microbial biomass-N; this should be followed by the recovery of pre-fire N concentrations on a long-term basis. We selected a fire chronosequence in Pinus canariensis forests on La Palma Island (Canary Islands, Spain). These forests are under low anthropogenic atmospheric deposition, and forest management is completely lacking; wildfires are therefore the only significant disturbance. Soil samples were collected during the winter and spring at 22 burned and unburned plots. Fire produced a significant decrease in microbial biomass N, mineral N and dissolved organic N. Almost 20 y after fire, pre-fire levels of N concentrations had not recovered. These results demonstrate that P. canariensis forest soils have a lower resilience against fire than expected. The magnitude of these observed changes suggests that pine forest wildfires may induce long-term (2 decades) changes in soil and in plant primary production.