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Soil Nitrogen and Mercury Dynamics Seven Decades After a Fire Disturbance: a Case Study at Acadia National Park

Patel, Kaizad F., Jakubowski, Michael D., Fernandez, Ivan J., Nelson, Sarah J., Gawley, William
Water, air, and soil pollution 2019 v.230 no.2 pp. 29
atmospheric deposition, biogeochemistry, case studies, forest fires, forest litter, forest soils, forest types, hardwood, mercury, methylation, methylmercury compounds, national parks, nitrates, nitrogen, softwood, soil organic carbon, streams, total nitrogen, watersheds, Maine
Forest soils (mainly soil organic carbon) play an important role in the retention of nitrogen and mercury, and loss of the forest floor during wildfires can stimulate N and Hg losses. In this paper, we investigate long-term impacts of forest fire on soil N and Hg concentrations at Acadia National Park (ANP) in Maine. Acadia National Park experienced a severe fire in 1947. Within the national park, Hadlock Brook watershed was left unburned, whereas most of Cadillac Brook watershed was intensely burned, with substantial loss of the forest floor. Post-fire regeneration in Cadillac was mostly as hardwood species, whereas vegetation in Hadlock remained predominantly softwood. We sampled soils in both watersheds in 2015, approximately 70 years after the fire. The soils were analyzed for total carbon (TC), total nitrogen (TN), total mercury (THg), and methylmercury (MeHg) content. Compared to Hadlock, Cadillac soils had ~ 50% lower TC, ~ 40% lower TN, and ~ 50% lower THg content, reflecting the loss of forest floor 70 years ago. Methylmercury concentrations in Cadillac were approximately 2 times the concentrations in Hadlock, indicating that conditions were more conducive to methylation, potentially due to differences in forest type. Long-term comparisons of stream DOC, NO₃⁻, and THg concentrations between the two watersheds demonstrated that concentrations were significantly lower in Cadillac Brook, reflecting greater retention in Cadillac and a legacy of lower atmospheric deposition in the hardwood as compared to softwood watershed. This study provides insights on the multi-decadal recovery from a stand-replacing disturbance and underscores the persistence of altered soil biogeochemistry.