Many scientists and managers have an interest in describing the environment following a fire to understand the effects on soil productivity, vegetation growth, and wildlife habitat, but little research has focused on the scientific rationale for classifying the post-fire environment. We developed an empirically-grounded soil post-fire index (PFI) based on available science and ecological thresholds. Using over 50 literature sources, we identified a minimum of five broad categories of post-fire outcomes: (a) unburned, (b) abundant surface organic matter ( > 85% surface organic matter), (c) moderate amount of surface organic matter ( ≥ 40 through 85%), (d) small amounts of surface organic matter ( < 40%), and (e) absence of surface organic matter (no organic matter left). We then subdivided each broad category on the basis of post-fire mineral soil colors providing a more fine-tuned post-fire soil index. We related each PFI category to characteristics such as soil temperature and duration of heating during fire, and physical, chemical, and biological responses. Classifying or describing post-fire soil conditions consistently will improve interpretations of fire effects research and facilitate communication of potential responses or outcomes (e.g., erosion potential) from fires of varying severities.
Additional publication details
Index for characterizing post-fire soil environments in temperate coniferous forests