Long-term impact of prescribed burning on the nutrient status and fuel loads of rehabilitated bauxite mines in Western Australia

S. Morley, C. Grant, Richard Hobbs, Viki Cramer

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    Alcoa World Alumina Australia has been rehabilitating bauxite mines in the jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) forest of Western Australia for more than 35 years. It is a requirement of Alcoa's completion criteria that rehabilitated areas can be incorporated into the prescribed burning program implemented in the surrounding forest. Rehabilitated areas may be more susceptible to nutrient losses following burning because of their relatively young age and reliance on N fixation from a legume understorey. The objective of this study was to assess the impact that prescribed burning has on the nutrient pools within rehabilitated ecosystems 5 and 8 years after fire, and compare these responses to unburnt rehabilitated areas and the unmined forest. The nutrient status of sites established in previous studies were assessed five (burnt and unburnt forest, 1989 and 1992 rehabilitation) and 8 (spring, autumn and unburnt 1981/1982 rehabilitation) years after burning. Soil, litter and understorey samples were collected and analysed for nutrient content. Burning 1981/1982 rehabilitation in either season 8 years earlier had no long-term negative effect on the nutrient status of the rehabilitation compared to the unburnt controls. Spring burning increased the nitrogen status of the rehabilitated areas by 52 kg ha(-1) compared with the unburnt control. Sites rehabilitated in 1989 and burnt 5 years ago showed similar post-fire recovery of nitrogen status to that of the burnt native forest sites (77-85%), while 1992 rehabilitation sites had only recovered 52% of the of the nitrogen of the unburnt sites. Therefore, the impact of burning on nitrogen status was greatest in the 5-year-old rehabilitation and least in the 12-13-year-old sites. Phosphorus was less affected by burning than nitrogen largely because the majority of P is bound in the soil in the jarrah forest. It is recommended that rehabilitated sites are burnt under low intensity in spring when they are 12-15-year-old to ensure rapid post-fire recovery of nutrients. (C) 2003 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)227-239
    JournalForest Ecology and Management
    Issue number39874
    Publication statusPublished - 2004

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