Agriculture, the Global Nitrogen Cycle, and Trace Gas Flux

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Abstract

The global budget of nitrous oxide is out of balance, with sources exceeding sinks by 30–40%, and our understanding of the causes of this imbalance is inadequate. Moreover, our knowledge of the budgets of other nitrogen-containing trace gases is worse than that for nitrous oxide. An analysis of the overall global nitrogen cycle and anthropogenic perturbations to it suggest that the global cycle has been altered to a greater extent than has nitrous oxide, in that fluxes of nitrogen across ecosystem boundaries have more than doubled as a consequence of human activity. The dominant sources of change to the overall cycle are agricultural intensification and land-use change, particularly in tropical regions. These processes should be evaluated carefully as causal factors for imbalances in global budgets of nitrogen-containing trace gases.