Fire impact on soil-water repellency and functioning of semi-arid croplands and rangelands: Implications for prescribed burnings and wildfires

Fire impact on soil-water repellency and functioning of semi-arid croplands and rangelands: Implications for prescribed burnings and wildfires

By: Stavi I., Barkai D., Knoll Y.M., Glion H.A., Katra I., Brook A., Zaady E.
Published in: Geomorphology
SDGs : SDG 15  |  Units: Social Sciences  | Time: 2017 |  Link
Description: An unintended fire outbreak during summer 2015 in the semi-arid Israeli Negev resulted in the burning of extensive cropl ands and rangelands. The rangelands have been managed over the long term for occasional grazing, while the croplands have been utilized for rainfed wheat cropping. Yet, during the studied year, the croplands were left fallow, allowing the growth of herbaceous vegetation, which was harvested and baled for hay before the fire outbreak. The study objectives were to investigate the impacts of fire, land-use, and soil depth on water-repellency and on the status and dynamics of some of the most important organic and mineral soil resources. Additionally, we aimed to assess the severity of this fire outbreak. The soil-water repellency was studied by measuring the soil's water drop penetration time (WDPT) and critical surface tension (CST). A significant effect of fire on soil hydrophobicity was recorded, with a slight increase in mean WDPT and a slight decrease in mean CST in the burnt sites than in the non-burnt sites. Yet, soil hydrophobicity in the burnt lands was rather moderate and remained within the water repellency's lowest class. A significant effect of land-use on the means of WDPT and CST was also recorded, being eleven-fold greater and 7% smaller, respectively, in the rangelands than in the croplands. This is consistent with the almost eightfold greater mean above-ground biomass recorded in the non-burnt rangelands than in the non-burnt post-harvest croplands, revealing the positive relations between available fuel load and soil-water repellency. The effect of soil depth was significant for CST but not for WDPT. Overall, the gathered data suggest that fire severity was low to moderate. Fire was also found to significantly affect the < 250 μm particle size fraction of the unconsolidated material cover, its mass being twofold to threefold greater in the non-burnt than in the burnt sites. Yet, soil organic carbon and ammonium-N were also studied, and generally showed higher values for the burnt lands. Overall, this study shows that the low- to moderate-fire severity only slightly increased the soil water repellency, and at the same time, increased on-site availability of some important soil resources. Nevertheless, it is acknowledged that such fires could impose risks to off-site air and water source quality. This study has implications for the assessment of geo-ecosystem functioning, as well as for the status and dynamics of soil resources following prescribed burnings or wildfires. © 2016 Elsevier B.V.

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