Topography controls post-fire changes in soil properties in a Chinese boreal forest

Jian jian Kong, Jian Yang, Wenhua Cai

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Both topography and the occurrence of wildfire can strongly affect soil properties in forest successions. Although numerous studies have examined the effects of fire and topography, few have explored their shifting relative importance with time since fire. We measured physical, chemical, and biological soil properties in two topographic positions (north-facing and south-facing) in a Chinese boreal forest along a gradient of fire history. In the control site, topography strongly influenced soil properties, with north-facing slopes having higher soil moisture (SM), depth of organic matter layer (OML), total carbon and inorganic N concentrations, and lower pH, dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and nitrogen (DON). In the 1-year-post-fire site, wildfire erased topographic effects on soil variables, and greater changes in soil properties occurred on the north-facing slopes. The wildfire significantly increased soil pH, DON, ammonium and nitrate, and decreased SM, OML, DOC and microbial biomass, while no significant differences in soil properties appeared between high- and low-severity plots. In the 11-year-post-fire site, most soil properties were similar to the control except for microbial biomass, OML and DOC; topography again became a significant factor in explaining variations in soil properties. Fire severity was highly correlated only with soil pH in the 1-year-post-fire site, whereas topographic factors were always correlated with some soil properties in the three sites. In the 1-year-post-fire site, wildfire explained almost five times more variance than topography for most soil properties, whereas in the 11-year-post-fire site, the proportion of variance explained by topography increased and even surpassed that by wildfire. These results demonstrate that the resilience of Larix gmelinii forest soils might be controlled by wildfires in the short term but by topography in the long term.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2662-2670
Number of pages9
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Feb 15 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2018


  • Disturbance
  • Eurasian boreal forest
  • Fire severity
  • Larix gmelinii
  • Microbial biomass
  • Nitrogen

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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