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Type: Journal Article
Author(s): Orpheus M. Butler; James J. Elser; Tom Lewis; Brendan Mackey; Chengrong Chen
Publication Date: 2018

The biogeochemical and stoichiometric signature of vegetation fire may influence post-fire ecosystem characteristics and the evolution of plant ‘fire traits’. Phosphorus (P), a potentially limiting nutrient in many fire-prone environments, might be particularly important in this context; however, the effects of fire on P cycling often vary widely. We conducted a global-scale meta-analysis using data from 174 soil studies and 39 litter studies, and found that fire led to significantly higher concentrations of soil mineral P as well as significantly lower soil and litter carbon:P and nitrogen:P ratios. These results demonstrate that fire has a P-rich signature in the soil-plant system that varies with vegetation type. Further, they suggest that burning can ease P limitation and decouple the biogeochemical cycling of P, carbon and nitrogen. These effects resemble a transient reversion to an earlier stage of ecosystem development, and likely underpin at least some of fire's impacts on ecosystems and organisms.

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Citation: Butler, Orpheus M.; Elser, James J.; Lewis, Tom; Mackey, Brendan; Chen, Chengrong. 2018. The phosphorus-rich signature of fire in the soil-plant system: a global meta-analysis. Ecology Letters 21(3):335-344.

Cataloging Information

Alaska    California    Eastern    Great Basin    Hawaii    Northern Rockies    Northwest    Rocky Mountain    Southern    Southwest    International    National
  • fire traits
  • nutrient dynamics
  • P - phosphorus
  • vegetation
Record Last Modified:
Record Maintained By: FRAMES Staff (
FRAMES Record Number: 25770