Effects of ploughing and mulching on soil and organic matter losses after a wildfire in Central Portugal

A.R. Lopes, S.A. Prats, F.C. Silva, J.J. Keizer


Forest wildfires typically increase runoff and associated soil and organic matter losses. Both ploughing and mulching with forest residues have been applied in recently burnt areas in Portugal to mitigate these effects in soil erosion, but their effectiveness has never been compared directly. To this end, soil and organic matter losses by water after a wildfire were studied in two eucalypt plantations in central Portugal that had been affected by the same wildfire (August 2015). One of the sites was instrumented with six erosion plots (2 m by 8 m), divided over two blocks with one treatment per block: control (doing nothing) and ploughing to 0.2 m depth with a tracked excavator. The other site was instrumented with nine erosion plots, divided over three blocks with three treatments in each block: control (doing nothing) and mulching with forest logging residues at reduced (2.6 Mg ha-1) and standard application rates (8 Mg ha-1). Mulching was performed one month after the wildfire, whereas ploughing took place one year after the wildfire. For this study, soil and organic matter losses were monitored at 12 occasions from July 2016 to May 2017, roughly coinciding with the second post-fire year. Over this relatively dry period sediment losses at the control plots of both ploughed and mulched sites averaged 1.6 and 0.6 Mg ha-1 respectively. The corresponding losses of the ploughed plots were 19% lower, whereas those of the mulched plots were 67 and 93% lower at the reduced and standard mulch rates, respectively. The organic matter content of the eroded sediments was 22% in the unploughed plots, and ploughing reduced this figure in half, which could be explained by the inversion of the topsoil horizons by the excavator. Mulching at the standard application rate seemed to produce a clear enrichment in organic matter content compared to mulching at the reduced rate as well as doing nothing (25 vs. 16 and 14%). The two main findings of this research were that i) erosion rates exceeded the 1 Mg ha-1 tolerable soil loss during the second post-fire year, indicating that mitigation measures have to be implemented, ii) ploughing was clearly less suited for mitigating post-fire erosion than mulching with forest logging residues, even at application rates as low as that typically used in operational post-fire emergency stabilization with straw mulching.


ploughing; mulch; soil erosion; organic matter; wildfire

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DOI: https://doi.org/10.18172/cig.3768

Copyright (c) 2020 A.R. Lopes, S.A. Prats, F.C. Silva, J.J. Keizer

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© Universidad de La Rioja, 2013

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