Main content area

Gross nitrous oxide production drives net nitrous oxide fluxes across a salt marsh landscape

Yang, Wendy H., Silver, Whendee L.
Global change biology 2016 v.22 no.6 pp. 2228-2237
denitrification, ecosystems, environmental factors, greenhouse gas emissions, greenhouse gases, iron, landscapes, nitrates, nitrification, nitrogen, nitrous oxide, oxygen, prediction, salt marshes, sea level, soil
Sea level rise will change inundation regimes in salt marshes, altering redox dynamics that control nitrification – a potential source of the potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide (N₂O) – and denitrification, a major nitrogen (N) loss pathway in coastal ecosystems and both a source and sink of N₂O. Measurements of net N₂O fluxes alone yield little insight into the different effects of redox conditions on N₂O production and consumption. We used in situ measurements of gross N₂O fluxes across a salt marsh elevation gradient to determine how soil N₂O emissions in coastal ecosystems may respond to future sea level rise. Soil redox declined as marsh elevation decreased, with lower soil nitrate and higher ferrous iron in the low marsh compared to the mid and high marshes (P < 0.001 for both). In addition, soil oxygen concentrations were lower in the low and mid‐marshes relative to the high marsh (P < 0.001). Net N₂O fluxes differed significantly among marsh zones (P = 0.009), averaging 9.8 ± 5.4 μg N m⁻² h⁻¹, −2.2 ± 0.9 μg N m⁻² h⁻¹, and 0.67 ± 0.57 μg N m⁻² h⁻¹ in the low, mid, and high marshes, respectively. Both net N₂O release and uptake were observed in the low and high marshes, but the mid‐marsh was consistently a net N₂O sink. Gross N₂O production was highest in the low marsh and lowest in the mid‐marsh (P = 0.02), whereas gross N₂O consumption did not differ among marsh zones. Thus, variability in gross N₂O production rates drove the differences in net N₂O flux among marsh zones. Our results suggest that future studies should focus on elucidating controls on the processes producing, rather than consuming, N₂O in salt marshes to improve our predictions of changes in net N₂O fluxes caused by future sea level rise.