Australian Journal of Botany Australian Journal of Botany Society
Southern hemisphere botanical ecosystems

Nitrogen and Phosphorus Availability and the Role of Fire in Heathlands at Wilsons Promontory

MA Adams, J Iser, AD Keleher and DC Cheal

Australian Journal of Botany 42(3) 269 - 281
Published: 1994


Analyses of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in heathland soils at Wilsons Promontory and on Snake Island show that the effects of fire, including repeated fires, are confined to the surface 2 cm. The uppermost soil in long-unburnt heathlands is rich in these elements and usually has a smaller C:N ratio compared with the soil below. Indices of N and P availability (C:N ratios, concentrations of potentially mineralisable N and extractable inorganic P, phosphatase activity) are similar to those in highly productive eucalypt forests-a finding in conflict with past assessments of nutrient availability in heathlands. Phosphatase activity and concentrations of carbon, nitrogen and potentially mineralisable N were less in soils from repeatedly burnt heathlands than in soils from long unburnt heathlands whereas there was a greater concentration of extractable inorganic P in soils from repeatedly burnt heathlands. The balance between nitrogen input and loss is dependent on fire frequency and present-day management of heathland (and other native plant communities with low nutrient capitals) should recognise that over- or under-use of fire will significantly alter soil nutrient pools and availability and that these changes may alter community species composition and productivity.

© CSIRO 1994

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