Post-fire nutrient flushes are an important precursor to secondary succession in fire-driven boreal forest. We studied the magnitude of changes in post-fire soil nutrient status across a chronosequence of ericaceous shrub-dominated boreal forest stands in eastern Newfoundland, Canada. The chronosequence comprised nine stands burned between 1 and 38 years prior to the study. These sites have resisted tree reestablishment following forest fire-induced mortality of black spruce and a concomitant increase in dominance of the ericaceous dwarf shrub Kalmia angustifolia L. Our objectives were: (1) to identify the factors driving soil nutrient status in these post-fire stands dominated by ericaceous plants, and (2) to test hypotheses that specific relationships exist among environmental factors, dominant vegetation and indicators of soil nutrient status. Macronutrients such as NH4+, total organic N and mineral soil P concentrations showed non-linear declines with time since fire. These parameters were also negatively associated with cover of ericaceous plants. Potential phytotoxins such as total phenolics and aluminium concentrations increased with increasing cover of K. angustifolia. Variability in net ammonification, total P and total phenolic acids in organic soils were strongly related to ericaceous dominance even when the effect of time since fire was partialled out using regression analysis. These findings suggest a strong capacity for ericaceous vegetation to have top-down effects on soil chemical property particularly in the organic horizon with the increase in its post-fire dominance.
Keywords Boreal coniferous forest - Time since fire - Kalmia heath - Polyphenols - Nutrient status - Plant-soil feedback - Secondary succession