Abstract

Fire induces important changes in vegetation and soil structure, which can have major impacts on overland flow generation processes, runoff amounts and erosion yields. This paper presents the results of an investigation into the impact of different fire intensities on water, sediment and solute yields. Wildfire, prescribed fire and experimental fire impacts were investigated at two scales: (1) a temporary circular bounded plot of 0.24 m2 (rainfall simulation plot); (2) a permanent bounded runoff plot of 16 m2 (natural rainfall conditions). In addition, the spatial patterns of the soil water repellency, vegetation, litter cover and stone cover for each land use and fire intensity were assessed using a transect system.The results of this study show a significant difference in the spatial distribution patterns of soil water repellency. Wildfire sites were characterized by more intense and by more spatially contiguous repellency than the experimental and prescribed fire sites. These differences have important effects on overland flow generation processes and runoff amounts. At the prescribed and experimental fire sites, the discontinuous distribution of repellency provides greater potential for water to infiltrate via non-repellent soils, whereas there are far fewer infiltration pathways at the wildfire sites because of their spatially contiguous repellency. This spatial discontinuity (alternation between hydrophobic and hydrophilic soil patches) is therefore responsible for the lower overland flow amounts, smaller erosion rates and nutrient yields at broader scales, when compared with the wildfire burned areas where soil water repellence is more intense and spatially contiguously distributed.

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