Date of Award

May 2020

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Science (MS)


Forestry and Environmental Conservation

Committee Member

Patrick Hiesl

Committee Member

Donald Hagan

Committee Member

Dara Park


The goal of this thesis was to fill a contemporary gap in empirical knowledge on prescribed fires effects on water quality in the forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. To accomplish this goal, I conducted an extensive literature review on fire effects on specific water quality variables: sediment yield and macronutrients, specifically nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) (Chapter 1); designed and executed a field study examining sub-surface nutrient pool response to prescribed fire at a landscape-scale (Chapter 2) and conducted a controlled, simulated rainfall experiment measuring sediment yield and nutrient exports from burnt litter samples collected from three distinct Southeastern forest types (Chapter 3). The objective of these three chapters was to examine water quality variable response to burning at different spatial scales in Southeastern forests. The results of Chapter 2 suggest that prescribed fire can cause a significant pulse of N and P, but this pulse is ephemeral and likely benefits forest productivity. The experimental data collected in Chapter 3 suggests that low-to-moderate burn severity does not cause significant erosion response in Southeastern forests. However, sediment yield in runoff did significantly increase at the highest burn severity treatment in all forest types, suggesting that retained litter at low-to-moderate burn severity reduces surface runoff but also that severely burned patches can function as sediment sources throughout a landscape. Burning did not readily increase the availability of N or P in surface runoff or leachate. This thesis concludes that prescribed fire as it is practiced in forests of the Southern Appalachian Mountains, poses little risk to above and below-ground water quality.



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