We compared functional attributes of streams draining catchments burned by wildfire 20 years previously to those of streams in unburned catchments. Long-term analyses of channel profiles indicated most channel change occurred within the first 10 years after fire with little subsequent change the following 10 years. Much of the standing dead timber had fallen, and its effect on stream morphology was directly related to stream size, with important ramifications for future years as decay progresses. The volume of wood in the active channel was 5X higher in a 3rd-order burn stream than in other burn or reference streams, but >80% of this wood was still bridging the stream. Retention of leaves was strongly associated with channel morphology and location of debris dams. Sediment respiration was significantly greater (1.7X) in streams of burned catchments, resulting from greater amounts of loosely attached organic matter in the sediments of these streams. In concordance with respiration results, coefficients of exchange (kex) were almost 5X higher in burn streams than in reference streams, although estimates of transient storage were similar between stream types. We expect the input of large woody debris to increase in the next 10 years in fire-impacted streams as bridging trees collapse into the stream, thereby enhancing channel complexity and habitat heterogeneity, instream metabolism and retention, and consequently stream function. The results emphasize the importance of landscape history, such as large-scale wildfires, on present patterns and processes in stream ecosystems.
Robinson, Christopher T.; Uehlinger, Urs; and Minshall, G. Wayne
"Functional characteristics of wilderness streams twenty years following wildfire,"
Western North American Naturalist: Vol. 65
, Article 1.
Available at: http://scholarsarchive.byu.edu/wnan/vol65/iss1/1