Forest fires are beneficial to soil health

Forest fires are beneficial to soil health

11 August 2010

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USA — Most people probably assume that forest fires are entirely destructive events that must be prevented at all costs. But recent research shows that forest fires are actually beneficial to soil because they play an important role in helping to maintain the earth’s nitrogen cycle.

Researchers from the University of Montana recently discovered that whenever there is a forest fire, the charcoal deposited into the ground helps to stimulate the conversion of ammonia to nitrates. This conversion perpetuates the nitrogen cycle and it enriches the soil with nitrogen, a necessary component of ecological health.

Environmental pollutants like chemical pesticides and artificial fertilizers are known to damage the earth’s nitrogen cycle, but this new research provides insight into one of nature’s natural remedies to the problem.

“Many of the defensive compounds plants rely on are alkaloids that contain nitrogen. Nitrogen is at a premium for a number of plants because they need large quantities of it for growth. Plants that live in nitrogen-deficient soils…often lack secondary defensive compounds,” explain Adrian Forsyth and Kenneth Miyata in their book Tropical Nature: Life and Death in the Rain Forests of Central and South America.

In other words, nitrogen is a necessary component of proper plant growth. Without it, plants would be unable to survive.

The study, which was published in the July/August issue of the Journal of Environmental Quality, also found that the nitrogen deposited into the ground as a result of forest fires helps healthy bacteria colonies to thrive in otherwise microbial-lacking soil.

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