Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 17, Issue 2, pp 306–314 | Cite as

N2O production pathways relate to land use type in acidic soils in subtropical China

  • Yi Zhang
  • Wei Zhao
  • Jinbo Zhang
  • Zucong Cai
Soils, Sec 1 • Soil Organic Matter Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling • Research Article



Agricultural practises impact soil properties and N transformation rate, and have a greater effect on N2O production pathways in agricultural soils compared with natural woodland soils. However, whether agricultural land use affects N2O production pathways in acidic soils in subtropical regions remains unknown.

Materials and methods

In this study, we collected natural woodland soil (WD) and three types of agricultural soils, namely upland agricultural (UA), tea plantation (TP) and bamboo plantation (BP) soils. We performed paired 15N-tracing experiment to investigate the effects of land use types on N2O production pathways in acidic soils in subtropical regions in China.

Results and discussion

The results revealed that heterotrophic nitrification is the dominant pathway of N2O production in WD, accounting for 44.6 % of N2O emissions, whereas heterotrophic nitrification contributed less than 2.7 % in all three agricultural soils, due to a lower organic C content and soil C/N ratio. In contrast, denitrification dominated N2O production in agricultural soils, accounting for 54.5, 72.8 and 77.1 % in UA, TP and BP, respectively. Nitrate (NO3 ) predominantly affected the contribution from denitrification in soils under different land use types. Autotrophic nitrification increased after the conversion of woodland to agricultural lands, peaking at 42.8 % in UA compared with only 21.5 % in WD, and was positively correlated with soil pH. Our data suggest that pH plays a great role in controlling N2O emissions through autotrophic nitrification following conversion of woodland to agricultural lands.


Our results demonstrate the variability in N2O production pathways in soils of different land use types. Soil pH, the quantity and quality of organic C and NO3 content primarily determined N2O emissions. These results will likely assist modelling and mitigation of N2O emissions from different land use types in subtropical acidic soils in China and elsewhere.


Agricultural soil Land use N2O production pathway Subtropical China Woodland soil 



This work was supported by grants from the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41571227), the “973” Project (2014CB953803) and the Priority Academic Program Development of Jiangsu Higher Education Institutions (PAPD, 164320H116).

Supplementary material

11368_2016_1554_MOESM1_ESM.doc (158 kb)
ESM 1 (DOC 158 kb)


  1. Agustín M, Pérez-Batallón P, Macías F (2004) Responses of soil organic matter and greenhouse gas fluxes to soil management and land use changes in a humid temperate region of southern Europe. Soil Biol Biochem 36:917–925CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Azam F, Müller C, Weiske A, Ottow JCG (2002) Nitrification and denitrification as sources of atmospheric nitrous oxide—role of oxidizable carbon and applied nitrogen. Biol Fertil Soils 35:54–61CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Butterbach-Bahl K, Baggs L, Dannenmann M, Zechmeister-Boltenstern S (2013) Nitrous oxide emissions from soils: how well do we understand the processes and their controls? Phil Trans R Soc B 368:91–97CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Cai Z, Zhao W (2009) Effects of land use types on nitrification in humid subtropical soils of China. Acta Pedol Sin 46:795–801 in Chinese with English abstractGoogle Scholar
  5. Cai Y, Ding W, Zhang X, Wang L (2010) Contribution of heterotrophic nitrification to nitrous oxide production in a long-term N-fertilized arable black soil. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal 41:2264–2278CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen Z, Ding W, Luo Y, Zhu T (2014) Nitrous oxide emissions from cultivated black soil: a case study in Northeast China and global estimates using empirical model. Global Biogeochem Cy 28:1311–1326CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Cheng Y, Zhang J, Wang J, Cai Z, Wang S (2015) Soil pH is a good predictor of the dominating N2O production processes under aerobic conditions. J Plant Nutr Soil Sci 178:370–373CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Davidson EA (1991) Fluxes of nitrous oxide and nitric oxide from terrestrial ecosystems. In: Rogers JE, Whitman WB (eds) Microbial production and consumption of greenhouse gases: methane, nitrogen oxides and halomethanes. American Society of Microbiology, Washington DC, pp. 219–235Google Scholar
  9. Ding C (2008) Oxidation–reduction regimes and characteristics of natural soil, upland soil and paddy soil in China. Acta Pedol Sin 45:66–75 in Chinese with English summaryGoogle Scholar
  10. Firestone M, Davidson E (1989) Microbiological basis of NO and N2O production and consumption in soil. In: Andreae M, Schimel D (eds) Exchange of trace gases between terrestrial ecosystems and the atmosphere. Wiley, Chichester, pp. 7–21Google Scholar
  11. Friedl J, Scheer C, Rowlings DW, Mclntosh HV, Stazzabosco A, Warner DI, Grace PR (2016) Denitrification losses from an intensively managed sub-tropical pasture—impact of soil moisture on the partitioning of N2 and N2O emissions. Soil Bio Biochem 92:58–66CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Hall SJ, Matson PA (2003) Nutrient status of tropical rain forests influences soil N dynamics after N additions. Ecol Monogr 73:107–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Hu H, Chen D, He J (2015) Microbial regulation of terrestrial nitrous oxide formation: understanding the biological pathways for prediction of emission rates. FEMS Microbiol Rev 39:729–749CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Huygens D, Rütting T, Boeckx P, Van Cleemput O, Godoy R, Müller C (2007) Soil nitrogen conservation mechanisms in a pristine south Chilean Nothofagus forest ecosystem. Soil Biol Biochem 39:2448–2458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Huygens D, Boeckx P, Templer PH, Godoy R (2008) Mechanisms for retention of bioavailable nitrogen in volcanic rainforest soils. Nat Geosci 1:543–548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. IPCC, Ciais P, Sabine C, Bala G, Bopp L, Brovkin V, Canadell J, Chhabra A, DeFries R, Galloway J, Heimann, M, Jones C, Le Quéré C, Myneni RB, Piao S, Thornton P (2013) Carbon and other biogeochemical cycles. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner GK, Tignor M, Allen SK, Boschung J, Nauels A, Xia Y, Bex V, Midgley PM (eds) Climate Change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USAGoogle Scholar
  17. Killham K (1990) Nitrification in coniferous forest soils. Plant Soil 128:31–44CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Koponen HT, Duran CE, Maljanen M, Hytönen J, Martikainen PJ (2006) Temperature responses of NO and N2O emissions from boreal organic agricultural soil. Soil Biol Biochem 38:1779–1787CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Kreitinger JP, Klein TM, Novick NJ, Alexander M (1985) Nitrification and characteristics of nitrifying microorganisms in acid forest soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 49:1407–1410CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Kuenen JG, Robertson LA (1994) Combined nitrification–denitrification processes. FEMS Microbiol Rev 15:109–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lan T, Han Y, Roelcke M, Nieder R, Cai Z (2014) Sources of nitrous and nitric oxides in paddy soils: nitrification and denitrification. J Environ Sci 26:581–592CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Laughlin RJ, Stevens RJ (2002) Evidence for fungal dominance of denitrification and codenitrification in grassland soil. Soil Sci Soc Am J 66:1540–1548CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lin S, Iqbal J, Hu R, Feng M (2010) N2O emissions from different land uses in mid-subtropical China. Agric Ecosyst Environ 136:40–48CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lu L, Han W, Zhang J, Wu Y, Wang B, Lin X, Zhu J, Cai Z, Jia Z (2012) Nitrification of archaeal ammonia oxidizers in acid soils is supported by hydrolysis of urea. ISME J 6:1978–1984CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Medinets S, Skiba U, Rennenberg H, Butterbach-Bahl K (2015) A review of soil NO transformation: associated processes and possible physiological significance on organisms. Soil Biol Biochem 80:92–117CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Morley N, Baggs EM (2010) Carbon and oxygen controls on N2O and N2 production during nitrate reduction. Soil Biol Biochem 42:1864–1871CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Mosier A, Guenzi W, Schweizer E (1986) Soil losses of dinitrogen and nitrous oxide from irrigated crops in northeastern Colorado. Soil Sci Soc Am J 50:344–348CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Müller C, Stevens RJ, Laughlin RJ (2004) A 15N tracing model to analyse N transformations in old grassland soil. Soil Biol Biochem 36:619–632CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Müller C, Laughlin RJ, Spott O, Rütting T (2014) Quantification of N2O emission pathways via a 15N tracing model. Soil Biol Biochem 72:44–54CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Mulvaney RL, Khan SA, Mulvaney CS (1997) Nitrogen fertilizers promote denitrification. Biol Fert Soils 24:211–220CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Papen H, Berg VR, Hinkel I, Thoene B, Rennenberg H (1989) Heterotrophic nitrification by Alcaligenes faecalis: NO2, NO3 , N2O, and NO production in exponentially growing cultures. Appl Environ Microbiol 55:2068–2072Google Scholar
  32. Petitjean C, Hénault C, Perrin AS, Pontet C, Metay A, Bernoux M, Jehanno T, Viard A, Roggy JC (2015) Soil N2O emissions in French Guiana after the conversion of tropical forest to agriculture with the chop-and-mulch method. Agric Ecosyst Environ 208:64–74CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Qafoku NP, Ranst EV, Noble A, Baert G (2004) Variable charge soils: their mineralogy, chemistry and management. Adv Agron 84:159–215CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Ravishankara AR, Daniel JS, Portmann RW (2009) Nitrous oxide (N2O): the dominant ozone-depleting substance emitted in the 21st century. Science 326:123–125CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Ruan J, Ma L, Shi Y, Zhang F (2004) Effects of litter incorporation and nitrogen fertilization on the contents of extractable aluminium in the rhizosphere soil of tea plant (Camallia sinensis (L.) O. Kuntze). Plant Soil 263:283–296CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Rütting T, Clough TJ, Müller C, Newton PCD (2010) Ten years of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide alters soil nitrogen transformations in a sheep-grazed pasture. Glob Change Biol 16:2530–2542CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Shoun H, Kim DH, Uchiyama H, Sugiyama J (1992) Denitrification by fungi. FEMS Microbiol Lett 94:277–282CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Stange CF, Spott O, Müller C (2009) An inverse abundance approach to separate soil nitrogen pools and gaseous nitrogen fluxes into fractions related to ammonium, nitrate and soil organic nitrogen. Eur J Soil Sci 60:907–915CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Stange CF, Spott O, Arriaga H, Menéndez S, Estavillo JM, Merino P (2013) Use of the inverse abundance approach to identify the sources of NO and N2O release from Spanish forest soils under oxic and hypoxic conditions. Soil Biol Biochem 57:451–458CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Stehfest E, Bouwman L (2006) N2O and NO emission from agricultural fields and soils under natural vegetation: summarizing available measurement data and modeling of global annual emissions. Nutr Cycl Agroecosys 74:207–228CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Stockdale EA, Hatch DJ, Murphy DV, Ledgard SF, Waston CJ (2002) Verifying the nitrification to immobilization ratio (N/I) as a key determinant of potential nitrate loss in grassland and arable soils. Agronomie 22:831–838CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Van Cleemput O, Baert L (1984) Nitrite: a key compound in N loss processes under acid conditions? Plant Soil 76:233–241CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Weber D, Gainey PL (1962) Relative sensitivity of nitrifying organisms to hydrogen ions in soils and solutions. Soil Sci 94:138–145CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. WMO (2015) The state of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere based on global observations through 2014. WMO Greenhouse Gas Bulletin 11:1–4Google Scholar
  45. Wood PM (1990) Autotrophic and heterotrophic mechanisms for ammonia oxidation. Soil Use Manage 6:78–79CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Wrage N, Velthof GL, Van Beusichem ML, Oenema O (2001) Role of nitrifier denitrification in the production of nitrous oxide. Soil Biol Biochem 33:1723–1732CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Wrage N, Van Groenigen JW, Oenema O, Baggs EM (2005) A novel dual-isotope labelling method for distinguishing between soil sources of N2O. Rapid Commun Mass Sp 19:3298–3306CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Xu Y, Cai Z (2007) Denitrification characteristics of subtropical soils in China affected by soil parent material and land use. Eur J Soil Sci 58:1293–1303CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Zaman M, Di HJ, Cameron KC, Frampton CM (1999) Gross nitrogen mineralization and nitrification rates and their relationships to enzyme activities and the soil microbial biomass in soils treated with dairy shed effluent and ammonium fertilizer at different water potentials. Biol Fertil Soils 29:178–186CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Zhang J, Cai Z, Cheng Y, Zhu T (2009) Denitrification and total nitrogen gas production from forest soils of Eastern China. Soil Biol Biochem 41:2551–2557CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Zhang J, Cai Z, Zhu T (2011) N2O production pathways in the subtropical acid forest soils in China. Environ Res 111:643–649CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Zhang J, Cai Z, Zhu T, Müller C (2013) Mechanisms for the retention of inorganic N in acidic forest soils of southern China. Scientific Reports 3:2342–2350Google Scholar
  53. Zhang J, Müller C, Cai Z (2015) Heterotrophic nitrification of organic N and its contribution to nitrous oxide emissions in soils. Soil Biol Biochem 84:199–209CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Zhao Q (2002) Material cycling and regulation in red soils of China. Science Press, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  55. Zhu T, Zhang J, Meng T, Zhang Y, Yang J, Müller C, Cai Z (2014) Tea plantation destroys soil retention of NO3 and increases N2O emissions in subtropical China. Soil Biol Biochemi 73:106–114CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Yi Zhang
    • 1
  • Wei Zhao
    • 1
    • 2
  • Jinbo Zhang
    • 1
    • 3
    • 4
  • Zucong Cai
    • 1
    • 3
    • 5
  1. 1.School of Geography SciencesNanjing Normal UniversityNanjingChina
  2. 2.College of Environmental ScienceNanjing Industry UniversityNanjingChina
  3. 3.Jiangsu Center for Collaborative Innovation in Geographical Information Resource Development and ApplicationNanjingChina
  4. 4.State Key Laboratory Cultivation Base of Geographical Environment EvolutionNanjingChina
  5. 5.Key Laboratory of Virtual Geographical Environment (VGE), Ministry of EducationNanjing Normal UniversityNanjingChina

Personalised recommendations