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Soil Biology and Biochemistry
Vol. 88, 2015, Pages: 197–213

Molecular techniques and stable isotope ratios at natural abundance give complementary inferences about N2O production pathways in an agricultural soil following a rainfall event

David Snider, Karen Thompson, Claudia Wagner-Riddle, John Spoelstra, Kari Dunfield

School of Environmental Science, University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario N1G 2W1, Canada.


The abatement of anthropogenic nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions depends on sound management of manure nitrogen (N) and an ability to track and predict manure-derived microbial N2O production in soils. The objective of this study was to investigate the utility of applying a novel combination of micrometeorological, stable isotope, and molecular methods to determine the short-term dynamics of N2O production processes in soil. Nitrous oxide emissions were continuously monitored in two drought-stressed agricultural fields treated with liquid dairy manure applied either in the fall or spring over an N2O emission event triggered by a heavy rainfall. In situ δ15N–N2O and δ18O–N2O measurements were used in conjunction with abundance (DNA) and potential activity (cDNA) measurements of key microbial N cycling gene and transcript (mRNA) targets to evaluate if these two techniques provided similar inferences about N2O soil processes occurring over the emission event. Soil gas was sampled at 4 depths along a profile from 10 to 50 cm below the surface and a multi-layer diffusion model was used to calculate the vertical N2O fluxes, the change in storage, and the net production of N2O in each layer.

Keywords: Dairy manure and nitrous oxide emissions; Denitrification and nitrification; Stable isotopes; amoA; crenamoA; nirS; nosZ.

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