Plant and soil responses to biosolids application following forest fire

V F Meyer, E F Redente, K A Barbarick, R B Brobst, M W Paschke, A L Miller
Journal of Environmental Quality 2004, 33 (3): 873-81
Soil stability and revegetation is a great concern following forest wildfires. Biosolids application might enhance revegetation efforts and enhance soil stability. In May 1997, we applied Metro Wastewater Reclamation District (Denver, CO, USA) composted biosolids at rates of 0, 5, 10, 20, 40, and 80 Mg ha(-1) to a severely burned, previously forested site near Buffalo Creek, CO to improve soil C and N levels and help establish eight native, seeded grasses. The soils on the site belong to the Sphinx series (sandy-skeletal, mixed, frigid, shallow Typic Ustorthents). Vegetation and soils data were collected for four years following treatment. During the four years following treatment, total plant biomass ranged from approximately 50 to 230 g m(-2) and generally increased with increasing biosolids application. The percentage of bare ground ranged from 4 to 58% and generally decreased with increasing biosolids rate. Higher rates of biosolids application were associated with increased concentrations of N, P, and Zn in tissue of the dominant plant species, streambank wheatgrass [Elymus lanceolatus (Scribn. & J.G. Sm) Gould subsp. lanceolatus], relative to the unamended, unfertilized control. At two months following biosolids application (1997), total soil C and N at soil depths of 0 to 7.5, 7.5 to 15, and 15 to 30 cm showed significant (P < 0.05) linear increases (r2 > 0.88) as biosolids rate increased. The surface soil layer also showed this effect one year after application (1998). For Years 2 through 4 (1999-2001) following treatment, soil C and N levels declined but did not show consistent trends. The increase in productivity and cover resulting from the use of biosolids can aid in the rehabilitation of wildfire sites and reduce soil erosion in ecosystems similar to the Buffalo Creek area.

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