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Historical soil drainage mediates the response of soil greenhouse gas emissions to intense precipitation events


Precipitation events are increasing in intensity in the Midwestern US due to climate change. This is resulting in flooding of poorly-drained upland soils, which can feed back on climate change by altering greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, including nitrous oxide (N2O) and carbon dioxide (CO2). The objective of this study was to determine if soil drainage history affects the response of soil GHG emissions to rain events. To do this, we measured N2O and CO2 fluxes from poorly-drained (PD) and well-drained (WD) soils in an agricultural field in Urbana, Illinois before and after large rain events. We also performed a lab experiment to separate effects of soil drainage history from contemporary effects of ponding. Finally, we utilized stable isotope techniques to measure gross N2O dynamics and to determine the contributions of nitrifiers and denitrifiers to net N2O fluxes. We found that ponding of WD soils led to pulses of net N2O efflux caused by stimulation of gross N2O production by denitrifiers. In contrast, PD soils had high net N2O effluxes only between large rain events, and gross N2O production was inhibited following ponding. Soil CO2 efflux was greater from PD soils under lab conditions, but autotrophic respiration obscured this trend in the field. Soil GHG emissions were a result of different contemporary ponding status as well as historical soil drainage, suggesting that historical soil redox regimes regulate soil GHG dynamics in response to precipitation. These soil drainage legacy effects are likely important in predicting soil GHG feedback effects on climate change.

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We would like to thank Jonathan Treffkorn, Lily Zhao, and Nate Lawrence for their assistance in the lab and field. This research was funded by the NSF Dimensions of Biodiversity Grant DEB-1831842 to W.H.Y. and R.S.; and by the Francis M. and Harlie M. Clark Research Support Grant, the Lebus Fund Award, and a summer research award from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign’s Program in Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation Biology to A.H.K. A.H.K. was supported by the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship Program (NSF IGERT 1069157). We also thank two anonymous reviewers for their many helpful suggestions to greatly improve this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Alexander Krichels.

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Krichels, A., DeLucia, E.H., Sanford, R. et al. Historical soil drainage mediates the response of soil greenhouse gas emissions to intense precipitation events. Biogeochemistry 142, 425–442 (2019).

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