An intrinsic link exists between soil moisture and soil nitrogen. Factors that increase or decrease soil moisture can have a profound effect on soil nitrogen cycling, which may have later repercussions in the plant community. Post-fire soil water repellency is one factor that can limit soil moisture acquisition and may indirectly affect nitrogen cycling and weed invasion in woody islands of fertility. Plots centered on burned Juniperus osteosperma trees were either left untreated or treated with a surfactant to ameliorate water repellency. Two years later, soils were excavated from the untreated and treated field plots. In the greenhouse, half of each soil type received a surfactant treatment while the other half was left untreated. Pots were seeded with either Bromus tectorum or Pseudoroegneria spicata. Analysis of field soil prior to the greenhouse trial showed that untreated, repellent soils had inorganic nitrogen levels an order of magnitude higher than wettable, surfactant-treated soils. Greenhouse pots that had received a surfactant treatment in the field and/or greenhouse had similar soil water content, plant density, and above ground biomass, which were, respectively, 55-101%, 31 to 34 -fold, and 16 to 18 -fold greater than pots without a surfactant treatment. No species effects were found. This study indicates that water repellency can reduce wetting and retention of water in the soil while promoting the retention of high levels of inorganic nitrogen. However, the effects of soil water repellency on inorganic nitrogen appeared to have a minimal effect on plant growth compared to the effect of soil water repellency on water availability.



College and Department

Life Sciences; Plant and Wildlife Sciences



Date Submitted


Document Type





Bromus tectorum, island of fertility, nitrogen, soil hydrophobicity, soil moisture, surfactant, water repellency, wildfire