Effects of burn temperature on ash nutrient forms and availability from cattail (typha domingensis) and sawgrass (cladium jamaicense) in the Florida everglades

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Received for publication March 13, 2008. Plant ash derived from fire plays an important role in nutrient balance and cycling in ecosystems. Factors that determine the composition and availability of ash nutrients include fire intensity (burn temperature and duration), plant species, habitat nutrient enrichment, and leaf type (live or dead leaf). We used laboratory simulation methods to evaluate temperature effects on nutrient composition and metals in the residual ash of sawgrass (Cladium jamaicense) and cattail (Typha domingensis), particularly on post-fire phosphorus (P) availability in plant ash. Live and dead leaf samples were collected from Water Conservation Area 2A in the northern Everglades along a soil P gradient, where prescribed fire may be used to accelerate recovery of this unique ecosystem. Significant decreases in total carbon and total nitrogen were detected with increasing fire temperature. Organic matter combustion was nearly complete at temperatures ≥450°C. HCl-extractable P (average, 50% of total P in the ash) and NH4Cl-extractable P (average, 33% of total P in the ash) were the predominant P fractions for laboratory-burned ash. Although a low-intensity fire could induce an elevation of P availability, an intense fire generally resulted in decreased water-soluble P. Significant differences in nutrient compositions were observed between species, habitat nutrient status, and leaf types. More labile inorganic P remained in sawgrass ash than in cattail ash; hence, sawgrass ash has a greater potential to release available P than cattail. Fire intensity affected plant ash nutrient composition, particularly P availability, and the effects varied with plant species and leaf type. Therefore, it is important to consider fire intensity and vegetation community when using a prescribed fire for ecosystem management.

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