We used a dynamic, long-term mass balance approach to track cumulative carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) losses to fire in boreal Manitoba over the 6500 years since deglaciation. Estimated C losses to decomposition and fire, combined with measurements of N pools in mature and burned forest floors, suggest that loss of N by combustion has likely resulted in a long-term loss that exceeds the amount of N stored in soil today by 2 to 3 times. These estimates imply that biological N fixation rates could be as high as 5 to 10 times atmospheric deposition rates in boreal regions. At the site scale, the amount of N lost is due to N content of fuels, which varies by stand type and fire severity, which in turn vary with climate and fire dynamics. The interplay of fire frequency, fire severity, and N partitioning during regrowth are important for understanding rates and sustainability of nutrient and carbon cycling over millenia and over broad regions.
Additional publication details
Fire dynamics and implications for nitrogen cycling in boreal forests