, Volume 374, Issue 1-2, pp 883-898
Date: 09 Oct 2013

Comparison of methane, nitrous oxide fluxes and CO2 respiration rates from a Mediterranean cork oak ecosystem and improved pasture

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Background and aims

During the recent decades, cork oak (Q. suber) mortality has been increasing in Mediterranean oak woodland endangering the economical and environmental sustainability of the “montado” ecosystem. This fact in combination with climate change and conversion of forestland to pasture may significantly affect the soil-atmosphere greenhouse gases (GHGs) exchange. Our study evaluates the impact of oak trees as compared to pasture on net ecosystem GHG (CH4, N2O, and CO2) exchange as well as the main environmental factors influencing this exchange.


We used field chamber measurements for the collection of GHGs under three different conditions: 1) open area (OA), 2) under tree canopy area (UC) and 3) improved pasture (IP). Experiments were done under typical Mediterranean climate at central Portugal in 2010 and 2011.


The UC had higher nitrification potential, soil C/N ratio, electrical conductivity, litter input and soil organic matter (SOM) than OA and IP. SOM positively correlated with soil CH4 and N2O fluxes but not with soil CO2 respiration rates. Soil water content (SWC) drives both CH4 and N2O fluxes. Under certain conditions, when SWC reached a threshold (7 % for CH4 and 3 % for N2O) the result was net uptake and that net uptake increased with SWC. This was the case for the UC and OA. Conversely, for the IP soil water content above 4 % promoted net CH4 release.


Our results show that cork oak influences soil properties and consequently GHGs fluxes. In the UC the input of litter for SOM together with soil moisture, favoured microbiological activity and related GHGs fluxes. Soil temperature is a secondary factor in the studied conditions. Our results also emphasized the potential impact posed by decreased cork oak tree density in the functioning of the “montado” ecosystem.