Prescribed burning recycles essential plant nutrients and stimulates growth in prairie restoration. While reducing the content of nutrients in dry matter, prescribed burning may also alter the spatial variability and distribution of nutrients, which in turn could negatively impact long-term productivity. A study was conducted in a tallgrass prairie restoration at the Audubon Society's Goose Pond Sanctuary near Arlington, Wisconsin to characterize the content and spatial variability and distribution of macro- (i.e., N, C, P, K, Ca, Mg and S) and micro-nutrients (i.e., Zn, B, Mn, Cu, Fe, Al and Na) in the aboveground litter before burning and in the ash after burning following 3- and 6-y burn intervals. Aboveground litter mass was significantly higher in 2001 after the 3-y burn interval than in 1998 after the 6-y burn interval. The amount of preburn litter was consistently reduced by >90% for both burn intervals, but the reduction of dry matter and the reductions in mass of N, C, P, K and S were significantly higher in 2001 than in 1998. The 6-y burn interval resulted in nutrient export that was similar to nutrient inputs from atmospheric wet deposition, whereas the 3-y burn interval resulted in the export of N, K, Ca and Mg faster than they were replenished. Prescribed burning significantly affected the spatial variability of dry matter and the concentration and content of most macro- and micronutrients. However, prescribed burning had little effect on the pre- and postburn spatial distributions of macro- and micro-nutrient masses, which were similar to pre- and postburn spatial distributions of litter and ash masses, except for Fe and Al which had atypically large concentration variances.
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