Effects of wood ash on freshwater organisms and aquatic forest ecosystems

Abstract: Wood ash application (WAA) has been recommended mainly for two reasons; i) to avoid depletion of minerals in the soil due to whole tree harvest in the forestry and ii) to mitigate harmful effects of acidification of soil and surface waters. In conclusion, the effects on terrestrial ecosystems and, especially, tree growth, can be attributed to the properties of the ash, the dose applied and the specific site at which the ash is applied. The research conducted on the effects of WAA on limnological ecosystems is very limited, and the major purpose of the present thesis was to gain knowledge of the effects of wood ash to different freshwater organisms, and the more comprehensive, limnological effects of WAA in the first stream in Bispgården, Sweden. Effects of wood ash solutions on the unicellular alga Euglena gracilis Klebs, the amphipod Gammarus pulex L., and the moss Fontinalis antipyretica Hedw. were investigated under laboratory conditions. Common in all three species was the decline in performance (growth/velocity/respiration/oxygen evolution) when the concentration of wood ash exceeded 5 g/l and no adjustment of pH was done (alkaline solution). In contrast, different movement parameters (motility, upwards swimming and velocity) in E. gracilis (neutral conditions), and increased growth of F. antipyretica with increased concentrations of wood ash indicated that nutrients in the ash was bioavailable for these organisms. There was no evidence of toxic effects on the organisms from metals or other compounds as a result from exposure to wood ash solutions in the present studies. The field study was conducted in a forest area close to Bispgården, about 100 km NW from Sundsvall, Sweden. The catchment area (50 ha) of the stream Fanbergsbäcken was treated with wood ash in September of 2004 (3,000 kg/ha;selfhardened crush-ash). In general, both biological (diatoms) and chemical (pH, alkalinity, and aluminum (Al) measurements) indicators have shown no significant effect on acidification parameters from the addition of wood ash. There was, however, evidence of an increased pH during spring flood, accompanied with a decrease in the frequency of low pH values (<5.6) during spring flood. In addition to this, alkalinity was significantly higher in the period 2005-2006, compared to that of 2003. High concentrations of toxic forms of Al repeatedly occured in the stream Fanbergsbäcken, and the WAA did not affect the frequencies of high concentrations of toxic Al forms (<50 μg/l). Both the moss F. antipyretica and the leaves from Alnus incana displayed increased potassium (K) concentrations, although other nutrients did not increase from WAA. In conclusion, no evidence of WAA being effective in restoring or improving the ecological status of freshwater environments has been established, either in the literature or in the present field study. On the other hand, there were no indications of harmful effects due to WAA, either. However, we still do not know the effects of wood ash on several organisms (predominantly invertebrates) inhabiting small ponds and other, temporary or permanent, freshwater ecosystems. In the context of WAA, these environments and organisms have not attended any attention in the research published to date, and future studies are strongly encouraged.