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Charcoal Increases Microbial Activity in Eastern Sierra Nevada Forest Soils
AuthorCarter, Zachary W.
Sullivan, Benjamin W.
Qualls, Robert G.
Blank, Robert R.
Schmidt, Casey A.
Verburg, Paul S. J.
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Fire is an important component of forests in the western United States. Not only are forests subjected to wildfires, but fire is also an important management tool to reduce fuels loads. Charcoal, a product of fire, can have major impacts on carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycling in forest soils, but it is unclear how these effects vary by dominant vegetation. In this study, soils collected from Jeffrey pine (JP) or lodgepole pine (LP) dominated areas and amended with charcoal derived from JP or LP were incubated to assess the importance of charcoal on microbial respiration and potential nitrification. In addition, polyphenol sorption was measured in unamended and charcoal-amended soils. In general, microbial respiration was highest at the 1% and 2.5% charcoal additions, but charcoal amendment had limited effects on potential nitrification rates throughout the incubation. Microbial respiration rates decreased but potential nitrification rates increased over time across most treatments. Increased microbial respiration may have been caused by priming of native organic matter rather than the decomposition of charcoal itself. Charcoal had a larger stimulatory effect on microbial respiration in LP soils than JP soils. Charcoal type had little effect on microbial processes, but polyphenol sorption was higher on LP-derived than JP-derived charcoal at higher amendment levels despite surface area being similar for both charcoal types. The results from our study suggest that the presence of charcoal can increase microbial activity in soils, but the exact mechanisms are still unclear.
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