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N₂O flux from plant-soil systems in polar deserts switch between sources and sinks under different light conditions

Stewart, Katherine J., Brummell, Martin E., Farrell, Richard E., Siciliano, Steven D.
Soil biology & biochemistry 2012 v.48 pp. 69-77
carbon dioxide, climate change, deserts, evapotranspiration, global budgets, greenhouse gases, methane, methane production, nitrous oxide, photosynthetically active radiation, plant communities, soil temperature, soil water
Production and consumption of greenhouse gases such as CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O are key factors driving climate change. While CO₂ sinks are commonly reported and the mechanisms relatively well understood, N₂O sinks have often been overlooked and the driving factors for these sinks are poorly understood. We examined CO₂, CH₄ and N₂O flux in three High Arctic polar deserts under both light (measured in transparent chambers) and dark (measured in opaque chambers) conditions. We further examined if differences in soil moisture, evapotranspiration, Photosynthetically Active Radiation (PAR), and/or plant communities were driving gas fluxes measured in transparent and opaque chambers at each of our sites. Nitrous oxide sinks were found at all of our sites suggesting that N₂O uptake can occur under extreme polar desert conditions, with relatively low soil moisture, soil temperature and limited soil N. Fluxes of CO₂ and N₂O switched from sources under dark conditions to sinks under light conditions, while CH₄ fluxes at our sites were not affected by light conditions. Neither evapotranspiration nor PAR were significantly correlated with CO₂ or N₂O flux, however, soil moisture was significantly correlated with both gas fluxes. The relationship between soil moisture and N₂O flux was different under light and dark conditions, suggesting that there are other factors, in addition to moisture, driving N₂O sinks. We found significant differences in N₂O and CO₂ flux between plant communities under both light and dark conditions and observed individual communities that shifted between sources and sinks depending on light conditions. Failure of many studies to include plant-mediated N₂O flux, as well as, N₂O soil sinks may account for the currently unbalanced global N₂O budget.