The short-term effects of prescribed burning on biomass removal and the release of Nitrogen and Phosphorus in a treatment wetland
Nutrient removal by constructed wetlands can decline over time due to the accumulation of organic matter. A prescribed burn is one of many management strategies used to remove detritus in macrophyte-dominated systems. We quantified the short-term effects on effluent water quality and the amount of aboveground detritus removed from a prescribed burn event. Surface water outflow concentrations were approximately three times higher for P and 1.5 times higher for total Kjeldhal nitrogen (TKN) following the burn event when compared to the control. The length of time over which the fire effect was significant (P < 0.05), 3 d for TKN and up to 23 d for P fractions. Over time, the concentration of soluble reactive phosphorus (SRP) in the effluent decreased, but was compensated with increases in dissolved organic phosphorus (DOP) and particulate phosphorus (PP), such that net total P remained the same. Total aboveground biomass decreased by 68.5% as a result of the burn, however, much of the live vegetation was converted to standing dead material. These results demonstrate that a prescribed burn can significantly decrease the amount of senescent organic matter in a constructed wetland. However, short-term nutrient releases following the burn could increase effluent nutrient concentrations. Therefore, management strategies should include hydraulically isolating the burned area immediately following the burn event to prevent nutrient export.