Forest soils need 80 years to recover from fires, study says

New South Wales (NSW) Rural Fire Service crews protect a property on Bulgamatta Road in the township of Berambing in the Blue Mountains, west of Sydney, Australia, Oct. 22, 2013. EPA-EFE FILE/DAN HIMBRECHTS

SYDNEY, Australia.- Forest soils need up to 80 years after forest fires and about 30 years after logging to recover, which is much longer than previously thought, according to a study published in Australia on Tuesday.

«We discovered that both natural and human disturbances can have incredibly long-lasting effects on forest soils that could impact plant communities and ecosystem function,» said lead researcher Elle Bowd from the Australian National University’s Fenner School of Environment and Society in a statement.

The research, published in Nature Geoscience, stressed that before now it was thought that forests could recover from these incidents in 10-15 years.

The study focused on forests in Mountain Ash, an area that generates almost all the water for the five million inhabitants of Melbourne, although scientists believe that the conclusions can be extended to other parts of the world.

In Mountain Ash, where large amounts of biomass carbon is stored, the team collected 729 soil cores from 81 sites exposed to nine different disturbances.

«Almost 99 per cent of Victoria’s Mountain Ash forests have either been logged or burnt in the past 80 years, so these forests are facing a huge uphill battle to restore themselves to their former glory,» said ANU team member Professor David Lindenmayer.

Bowd said fires can cause soil temperatures to exceed 500 degrees Celsius, which «can result in the loss of soil nutrients.»

She also said that logging can expose the forest floor, compact soils and alter soil structure, “reducing vital soil nutrients.”

The research team urged the authorities to consider the long-lasting impacts of forest soil disturbance, and reduce future disturbances such as clearcut logging.

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