The multi-element stoichiometry of wet eucalypt forest is transformed by recent, frequent fire

Orpheus M. Butler, James J. Elser, Tom Lewis, Sarah C. Maunsell, Mehran Rezaei Rashti, Chengrong Chen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Background and aims: Fires can alter the elemental stoichiometry of ecosystems, reflecting altered patterns of biogeochemical cycling in the post-fire environment. However, elements other than carbon (C), nitrogen (N), and phosphorus (P) have rarely been studied in this context. Thus, we aimed to expand the understanding of fire’s stoichiometric and biogeochemical effects to encompass a broader suite of biogenic elements. Methods: We compared the stoichiometric ratios of C, N, P, potassium (K), sodium (Na), magnesium (Mg), and sulfur (S) in soil, plant litter, and beetles (Thalycrodes pulchrum) between forest plots that have been burned biennially at low intensity since 1972 and plots that have remained unburned. Results: Multi-element stoichiometry differed strongly between the fire regimes. Low intensity biennial burning was associated with depletion of C, N, and S relative to P, K, and to a small extent Mg and Na, in soil and litter. The stoichiometry of T. pulchrum biomass was not significantly affected by fire regime, but fire regime-associated variation in the stoichiometry of T. pulchrum biomass was positively correlated with the fire-induced stoichiometric shifts in soil. Conclusions: The effects of low intensity prescribed fire on ecological stoichiometry extend to Na, K, Mg, and S in ways consistent with the respective potentials of these elements to volatilize during fire or accumulate in the absence of fire. These effects vary among ecosystem components in a manner that reveals the importance of biological processes and constraints as factors that determine the nature, magnitude, and potential consequences of the stoichiometric signatures of fire regimes. We conclude that long-term changes in fire regime can disrupt or even decouple the biogeochemical cycles of numerous biogenic elements in the soil–plant system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)447-461
Number of pages15
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2020


  • Biogeochemistry
  • Carbon
  • Disturbance
  • Magnesium
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus
  • Potassium
  • Prescribed burning
  • Sodium
  • Sulfur


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