Modeling carbon-nutrient interactions during the early recovery of tundra after fire. Academic Article uri icon


  • Fire frequency has dramatically increased in the tundra of northern Alaska, USA, which has major implications for the carbon budget of the region and the functioning of these ecosystems, which support important wildlife species. We investigated the postfire succession of plant and soil carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) fluxes and stocks along a burn severity gradient in the 2007 Anaktuvuk River fire scar in northern Alaska. Modeling results indicated that the early regrowth of postfire tundra vegetation was limited primarily by its canopy photosynthetic potential, rather than nutrient availability, because of the initially low leaf area and relatively high inorganic N and P concentrations in soil. Our simulations indicated that the postfire recovery of tundra vegetation was sustained predominantly by the uptake of residual inorganic N (i.e., in the remaining ash), and the redistribution of N and P from soil organic matter to vegetation. Although residual nutrients in ash were higher in the severe burn than the moderate burn, the moderate burn recovered faster because of the higher remaining biomass and consequent photosynthetic potential. Residual nutrients in ash allowed both burn sites to recover and exceed the unburned site in both aboveground biomass and production five years after the fire. The investigation of interactions among postfire C, N, and P cycles has contributed to a mechanistic understanding of the response of tundra ecosystems to fire disturbance. Our study provided insight on how the trajectory of recovery of tundra from wildfire is regulated during early succession.

publication date

  • September 2015