, Volume 115, Issue 2, pp 261-284

Perspectives on measurement of denitrification in the field including recommended protocols for acetylene based methods

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Abstract

Of the biogeochemical processes, denitrification has perhaps been the most difficult to study in the field because of the inability to measure the product of the process. The last decade of research, however, has provided both acetylene and15N based methods as well as undisturbed soil core andin situ soil cover sampling approaches to implementing these methods. All of these methods, if used appropriately, give comparable results. Thus, we now have several methods, each with advantages for particular sites or objectives, that accurately measure denitrification in nature. Because of the general usefulness of the acetylene methods, updated protocols for the following three methods are given: gas-phase recirculation soil cores; static soil cores; and the denitrifying enzyme assay also known as the phase 1 assay. Despite the availability of these and other methods, denitrification budgets remain difficult to accurately establish in most environments because of the high spatial and temporal variability inherent in denitrification. Appropriate analysis of those data includes a distribution analysis of the data, and if highly skewed as is typically the case, the most accurate method to estimate the mean and the population variance is the UMVUE method (uniformly minimum variance unbiased estimator). Geostatistical methods have also been employed to improve spatial and temporal estimates of denitrification. These have occasionally been successful for spatial analysis but in the attempt described here for temporal analysis the approach was not useful.

Discussions of the importance of denitrification have always focused on quantifying the process and whether particular measured quantities are judged to be a significant amount of nitrogen. A second line of evidence discussed here is the extant genetic record that results from natural selection. These analysis lead to the conclusion that strong selection for denitrification must currently be occurring, which implies that the process is of general significance in soils.