Kǫ'-Ts’ah-Tó: Temperatures, ash and soil hydrology: predicting fire impact from plant traits

Marie Curie Reintegration Grant, Dr. Cathelijne Stoof
(Sept 2016 - Aug 2018)

Summary: Climate change increases the frequency and intensity of vegetation fires around the world. Fire can considerably increase the landscape’s vulnerability to flooding and erosion, which is in part caused by fire-induced soil damage and hydrological changes. While it is known that plants can alter the fire environment, there is a major knowledge gap regarding the fundamental mechanisms by which vegetation mediates fire impact on soil physics and hydrology. This project will address this gap by considering for the first time the cascading effects of plants on fire and soil hydrology, focusing on two important factors in post-fire hydrology: soil heating and ash. My hypothesis is that plant structural and chemical traits vary within the landscape and control fire impact on soil physical properties by affecting heat and ash production. This hypothesis will be tested with a combination of spatial sampling, lab experiments and modeling, using contrasting plant species and soils from watersheds in Portugal and the USA. Multiple regression and principal component analysis will be used to relate fire impacts to the various plant traits. This project can help predict and mitigate fire risk and impact across landscapes, facilitate development of risk maps, and generate knowledge with implications for nature conservation, land use planning, fire management and potential policy making.

Student opportunities: A range of thesis opportunities (BSc and MSc) is available in this project, for instance focusing on spatial mapping of soils, vegetation and fire risk, laboratory burns comparing impacts of plant traits on soil heating, soil heating modeling, and laboratory experiments testing the impacts of ash. Please contact me to discuss these opportunities if you are interested.

Acknowledgements: This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No. 706428.

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