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Assessment of the nitrogen and carbon budget of two managed temperate grassland fields

Ammann, Christof, Spirig, Christoph, Leifeld, Jens, Neftel, Albrecht
Agriculture, ecosystems & environment 2009 v.133 no.3-4 pp. 150-162
grasslands, nitrogen, carbon, biogeochemical cycles, greenhouse gases, crop rotation, agricultural land, gas exchange, nitrogen oxides, ammonia, nitrous oxide, nitric oxide, nitrogen dioxide, nitric acid, atmospheric deposition, animal manures, harvesting, leaching, rain, carbon nitrogen ratio, analytical methods, simulation models, soil organic matter, Switzerland
Greenhouse gas budgets as well as the productivity of grassland systems are closely related to the carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) cycles. Within the framework of the CarboEurope and NitroEurope projects we have measured C and N exchange on the field scale at the grassland site Oensingen previously converted from arable rotation. The site is located on the Swiss Central Plateau and consists of two parallel fields of equal size. One field was subjected to intensive management with average nitrogen input of 230kg-Nha⁻¹ year⁻¹ and 4-5 cuts per year, and the other to an extensive management with no fertilisation and less frequent cutting. The total C budget of the fields was assessed by measuring the CO₂ exchange by eddy covariance and analysing the carbon import by manure application and export by harvest. The N budget of the managed grassland is more complex. Besides the management related import and export, it includes gaseous exchange in many different forms (NO, NO₂, HNO₃, N₂O, NH₃, N₂) needing different analytical techniques, as well as input by rain and leaching of N-compounds with the soil water. The main (“level-3”) field sites in the NitroEurope project are supposed to measure 95% of the N fluxes at the field scale. For several of the N fluxes specific measurements have been performed for 1 year or longer at the site. Some of the remaining N budget components (dry and wet deposition) could be estimated from results of a national deposition network, while other components (NH₃ and N₂ emission) were estimated based on literature parameterisations. However, we found indications that the (systematic) uncertainties of these estimated N-fluxes are large and that it is important to make site-specific measurement for all relevant budget components. The suitability of corresponding experimental methods is discussed. Analysis of the C budget over a 6-year period (2002-2007) showed a significant mean difference between the two newly established grassland fields with a likely net carbon loss for the extensive management and a net sequestration for the intensive management. Since the C/N ratio of the soil organic matter of the grassland is constrained in a rather narrow range around 9.3, the change in the soil carbon pool is supposed to be accompanied by a corresponding change in the N storage. This approach provided an alternative method to check the N budget of the two grassland fields derived from the individual N fluxes.