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Dynamics of nutrient removal and N2O emissions in an ecological ditch with different plant combinations

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Ecological ditches (eco-ditches) are being recognized as a green method for treating wastewater from domestic sewage sources. However, the relationship between the efficiency of nutrient removal from wastewater and N2O emissions is unclear given that a higher nutrient removal efficiency might result in more N2O emissions. Therefore, we constructed an eco-ditch system with three combinations of different plants (local wetland species) to treat rural sewage in the mountainous regions of China and monitored water quality and N2O emissions. Eco-ditches are important sources of atmospheric N2O, with nutrient removal efficiencies of 22–84% and 23–87% for total nitrogen (TN) and total phosphorus (TP), respectively, and emissions of N2O ranging from 16 to 243 µg m−2 h−1. The seasonal variations in pollutant removal efficiency and N2O emissions followed similar patterns—both were considerably greater in summer than in the other seasons, with the lowest values observed in winter. Among the three plant configurations tested, ditch sections containing Acorus calamus L. and Phyllostachys heteroclada Oliv. had the highest nutrient removal efficiency and the lowest N2O emissions, with removal efficiencies of 24% and 32%, respectively, for TN and TP, and a 16% average reduction in N2O emissions, which was positively associated with NO3–N. This study highlights the importance of selecting appropriate combination of plant species for eco-ditches to efficiently remove nutrients from rural domestic sewage and reduce N2O emissions.

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This paper was presented at the ISCRAES 2022 conference in Dublin on 28–31 August 2022, which was sponsored by the OECD Co-operative Research Programme: Sustainable Agricultural and Food Systems, whose financial support enabled my travel to the Conference. This study was supported by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (42171067) and the Key Program of China National Tobacco Corporation Sichuan (SCYC202213).

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Authors and Affiliations



Xianglong Liu: Conceptualization, Writing - Original draft, Writing - Review & Editing, Data Curation, Investigation, Statistical analyses. Xiaoguo Wang: Conceptualization, Writing - Review & Editing, Funding acquisition, Project administration. Qiuhong Li: Performed field & lab work. Yingjie Zhang, Jialin Bai, Zongjin Zhang, Fangfang Yan: Writing - Review & Editing.

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Correspondence to Xiaoguo Wang.

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This special issue, titled ‘Towards Net Zero Emissions Without Compromising Agricultural Sustainability: What Is Achievable?’, is guest-edited by M.I. Khalil, B. Osborne, and A. Wingler. It originates from the ISCRAES 2022 ( Panel Discussion, which was sponsored by the OECD Co-operative Research Programme: Sustainable Agricultural and Food Systems.

The OECD disclaimer is: The opinions expressed and arguments employed in this publication are the sole responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the OECD or of the governments of its Member countries.

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Liu, X., Wang, X., Li, Q. et al. Dynamics of nutrient removal and N2O emissions in an ecological ditch with different plant combinations. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst (2024).

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