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Georgia Journal of Science

Article Title

THE IMPACT OF FIRE ON SOIL CHARACTERISTICS IN THE MARITIME FORESTS ON SAPELO ISLAND, GA

Abstract

Human activities have drastically altered fire regimes in countless ecosystems by suppressing and/or effectuating fires. In the past, management strategies were formulated to eliminate the occurrence of fire altogether. As we have become more aware of the benefits of fires such as reducing the amount of fuel build-up, the recycling of nutrients for healthier plant communities, and the promotion of biodiversity, prescribed burns are now considered an integral part of forest management. Sapelo Island which is located off the coast of Georgia experiences both prescribed and natural fires. The goal of this study was to investigate the impact of no fire, prescribed fire, and natural fire on soil characteristics within an ecosystem. We hypothesized that soil samples collected from areas impacted by the high-intensity wildfires would have poor nutrient qualities for sustaining healthy vegetation, especially when compared with soils from the prescribed fire area. Prescribed burns are conducted between December-April on the Island and natural fires typically occur during the summer (May-July). Therefore, samples were collected between May-October of 2019. Within the areas of interest, four sites were chosen for sampling based on their proximity to areas that experienced prescribed or natural fires. Horizontal transects were established and sample plots placed along each one at equal intervals for a total of 15 sample plots per transect. In each plot, a soil sample was collected by taking from multiple locations within the sampling plot using a soil auger. We measured soil quality by determining soil pH, and extractable phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, zinc, manganese, copper, boron, and sodium (all measured in ppm). Understanding soil texture, cation-exchange, and nutrient changes in fire impacted areas will help managers further understand fire dynamics on the island and inform management strategies.

Acknowledgements

GCSU Dept. of Biological and Environmental Sciences, Marjorie G. Prentice Graduate Research Scholarship

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