Underlying Ecosystem Emissions Exceed Cattle-Emitted Methane from Subtropical Lowland Pastures

Abstract

Cattle are a major methane (CH4) source from pasture ecosystems; however, the underlying landscape can be a significant and unaccounted source of CH4. In general, landscape CH4 emissions are poorly quantified, vary widely across time and space, and are easily underestimated if emission hotspots or episodic fluxes are overlooked. In this study, CH4 emissions from subtropical lowland pastures were quantified using static chambers, eddy covariance, and mobile spectrometer surveys. Landscape emissions were the dominant CH4 source, and cattle were responsible for 19–30% of annual emissions. The entire ecosystem emitted 33.84 ± 2.25 g CH4 m−2 y−1 as estimated by eddy covariance-measured fluxes. Landscape emissions were highly variable, and seasonal flooding drove high magnitude emissions from the underlying landscape. Large CH4 emissions were observed from wetlands and, to a lesser extent, from the entire landscape during the wet season. In contrast, during the dry season, there were no appreciable landscape CH4 emissions, although canals, which cover only 1.7% of the total land area, were responsible for 97.7% of dry-season emissions. Ecosystem CH4 fluxes, measured by eddy covariance, varied seasonally and positively correlated to water table depth, soil and air temperatures, and topsoil water content. The results presented here are the first to use mobile spectrometers to map biogenic CH4 emissions at the landscape scale, and strongly suggest that the underlying landscape is a strong CH4 source that must be considered in addition to cattle emissions.

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Acknowledgments

We thank Hilary Swain, Earl Keel, Julia Maki, and the rest of the staff at the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center for site access, lodging, transportation, and continued support in the field. We also thank Carl Bernacchi and Nuria Gomez-Casanovas for help with eddy covariance tower setup, maintenance, data transfer, and processing. Archbold Biological Station and the MacArthur Agro-ecology Research Center provided LIDAR data used in this work. Hilary Swainand Nuria Gomez-Casanovas provided helpful comments and edits to the manuscript. This research was supported by the Cornell University Program in Cross-Scale Biogeochemistry and Climate, Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, Cornell Sigma Xi, and University of Illinois USDA ARS.

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Correspondence to Samuel D. Chamberlain.

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SDC and JPS conceived and designed the study, SDC and EHB collected data, SDC and JPS analyzed data, and SDC and JPS wrote the manuscript.

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Chamberlain, S.D., Boughton, E.H. & Sparks, J.P. Underlying Ecosystem Emissions Exceed Cattle-Emitted Methane from Subtropical Lowland Pastures. Ecosystems 18, 933–945 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10021-015-9873-x

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Keywords

  • methane
  • eddy covariance
  • mobile spectrometry
  • pasture
  • cattle
  • greenhouse gas budget
  • everglades
  • subtropics