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Wildfire-Derived Pyrogenic Carbon Modulates Organic Matter and Microbial Functioning in a Fluvial Ecosystem

submitted on 03.02.2021, 14:27 and posted on 04.02.2021, 13:08 by Lukas Thuile Bistarelli, Caroline Poyntner, Cristina Santín, Stefan H. Doerr, Matthew V. Talluto, Gabriel Singer, Gabriel Sigmund
Wildfires produce large amounts of pyrogenic carbon (PyC), including particulate charcoal, known for its chemical recalcitrance and sorption affinity for organic molecules. Wildfire-derived PyC is highly mobile in the landscape and can be transported to fluvial networks where it may impact natural dissolved organic matter (DOM) and microbial biofilms. The effects of PyC on freshwater ecosystems and carbon cycling therein remain poorly investigated. To address this research gap, we used in-stream flumes with a control vs treatment design (pulse addition of PyC particles). We present evidence that field-aged PyC inputs into river ecosystems can alter dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration, DOM composition, pH, and enzymatic activities in benthic biofilms. In stream DOM composition was altered due to leaching of pyrogenic DOM from PyC and possible concurrent sorption of riverine DOM to PyC. DOM changes and increase in pH were associated with changes in enzymatic activities, which reflected preferential usageof recalcitrant over easily available DOM by biofilms. Furthermore, we observed particulate PyC sedimentation on biofilm surfaces, which may further modulate the impacts of PyC. This study highlights the importance of PyC for in-stream DOM propertiesand biofilm functioning with implications for in-stream biogeochemical cycling in fire affected watersheds.


ERC Starting Grant FLUFLUX (grant number ERC-STG 716196)

FORMAS grant FR-2019/0007


Email Address of Submitting Author


University of Vienna



ORCID For Submitting Author


Declaration of Conflict of Interest

no conflicts to declare