DOI:https://doi.org/10.3232/SJSS.2012.V2.N2.01

Wildfires, soil carbon balance and resilient organic matter in Mediterranean ecosystems. A review .

Gonzalo Almendros, Francisco Javier González-Vila

Abstract

A review of the effects of wildfires on Mediterranean soils was carried out with special emphasis on the biogeochemical processes involved in soil C sequestration. Modifications to the composition and properties of soil humic substances and related resilient C-forms in soil resulting from fires were also discussed. The systematic effects of fires on soil organic matter (SOM) mainly involve changes to its solubility and colloidal properties, selective thermal degradation, structural condensation and the cyclization of soil C and N-forms. These effects represent an increase in the biogeochemical stability and chemical diversity of the SOM after the thermal generation of structures that are not found in soils unless they are affected by fire. Non-systematic effects also depend on local environmental constraints and on the great differences in fire intensities and propagation patterns. The effects of fire were also discussed, taking advantage of the results of laboratory simulation experiments. This approach is indispensable for differentiating fire intrinsic effects on soil from those produced by fire-induced inputs of charred necromass and the subsequent effects of soil erosion. In some cases, the characteristic properties acquired by post-fire soils can be explained in terms of molecular-level features of humic substances and, in particular, those concerning resistance to biodegradation, cation exchange capacity, N-availability, soil water repellence and aggregate stability.
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