Nitrifier denitrification as a distinct and significant source of nitrous oxide from soil

Kool, D.M.; Dolfing, J.; Wrage, N.; Groenigen, J.W. van


Soils are the major source of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) to our atmosphere. A thorough understanding of terrestrial N2O production is therefore essential. N2O can be produced by nitrifiers, denitrifiers, and by nitrifiers paradoxically denitrifying. The latter pathway, though well-known in pure culture, has only recently been demonstrated in soils. Moreover, nitrifier denitrification appeared to be much less important than classical nitrate-driven denitrification. Here we studied a poor sandy soil, and show that when moisture conditions are sub-optimal for denitrification, nitrifier denitrification can be a major contributor to N2O emission from this soil. We conclude that the relative importance of classical and nitrifier denitrification in N2O emitted from soil is a function of the soil moisture content, and likely of other environmental conditions as well. Accordingly, we suggest that nitrifier denitrification should be routinely considered as a major source of N2O from soil