Depressional wetlands are a natural feature of the longleaf pine-wiregrass ecosystem on the southeastern Coastal Plain. Fire is an essential part of the longleaf pine forest with prescribed burns occurring at 1–3 y intervals. In 2000 and 2001 we sampled wetlands whose surrounding uplands had been burned and reference wetlands (i.e., no fire) to determine the short-term changes (<1 mo) in surface water quality. In 2000 pH, alkalinity and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) were higher in burned wetlands than reference sites based on ranked ANOVA. In 2001 dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and NH4-N were higher in burned wetlands than reference ones. Differences between years suggest that field conditions are very important in determining fire's affect on water quality. To clarify our findings we conducted a laboratory experiment where we looked at changes in water quality when exposed to material (wiregrass, dead pine needles and soil) that had undergone simulated fire (muffle furnace at 340 C for 1 h). Results indicated that water exposed to burned soil had elevated pH, alkalinity, DOC, NH4-N and soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) compared to unburned soil. Burned wiregrass and pine needles had lower DOC and DIC levels compared to unburned material, but burned wiregrass had higher NH4-N and SRP concentrations than the unburned treatment. Overall our results suggest that the linkage of fire and water quality of wetlands is through fire's effect on soils rather than vegetation.
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Vol. 150 • No. 1