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Linking prescribed fire, nutrient deposition and cyanobacteria dominance through pyroeutrophication in a subtropical lake ecosystem from the mid Holocene to present


Waters, Matthew
Smoak, Joseph
Vachula, Richard
Waters, Matthew


Prescribed fire (Rx-fire) is a common management tool for many forested ecosystems and promotes tree and forest soil health. Although burned materials from Rx-fire areas can enter adjacent aquatic environments, very few studies have focused on the water quality impacts of increased nutrients on aquatic primary producer communities. Here, we applied paleolimnological techniques on a 170-cm sediment core collected from Ditch Pond, AL, USA, a subtropical lake system located in the Conecuh National Forest where Rx-fire has been the primary management tool for ~90 years. Macroscopic charcoal, nutrients (C, N, P) and photosynthetic pigments were measured throughout the core which spans from the middle Holocene until modern day. Our research questions were: 1) What were the sedimentary nutrient and stoichiometric changes associated with the Rx-Fire period beginning in 1937 CE? and 2) Did these nutrient changes alter historic algae/cyanobacteria groups? Following the onset of Rx-fire, nutrients (C, N, P) increased in deposition in the lake with P showing the greatest proportional increase at over 300%, suggesting that P inputs from Rx-fire are a primary artifact of burning. Photosynthetic pigments showed that increases in nutrients from Rx-fire caused extensive increases in total primary producer abundance and cyanobacteria dominance, called pyroeutrophication. These data suggest a greater need to understand the implications of fire-associated nutrients on aquatic primary producers wherever fire (but especially Rx-fire) is occurring, as well as an increase in collaboration between forest and aquatic ecosystem managers.