Micrometeorological measurements over 3 years reveal differences in N2O emissions between annual and perennial crops.

Abalos, D., Brown, S.E., VanderZaag, A.C., Gordon, R.J., Dunfield, K.E., and Wagner-Riddle, C. (2016). "Micrometeorological measurements over 3 years reveal differences in N2O emissions between annual and perennial crops.", Global Change Biology. doi : 10.1111/gcb.13137  Access to full text

Abstract

Perennial crops can deliver a wide range of ecosystem services compared to annual crops. Some of these benefits are achieved by lengthening the growing season, which increases the period of crop water and nutrient uptake, pointing to a potential role for perennial systems to mitigate soil nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions. Employing a micrometeorological method, we tested this hypothesis in a 3-year field experiment with a perennial grass-legume mixture and an annual corn monoculture. Given that N2O emissions are strongly dependent on the method of fertilizer application, two manure application options commonly used by farmers for each crop were studied: injection vs. broadcast application for the perennial; fall vs. spring application for the annual. Across the 3 years, lower N2O emissions (P < 0.001) were measured for the perennial compared to the annual crop, even though annual N2O emissions increased tenfold for the perennial after ploughing. The percentage of N2O lost per unit of fertilizer applied was 3.7, 3.1 and 1.3 times higher for the annual for each consecutive year. Differences in soil organic matter due to the contrasting root systems of these crops are probably a major factor behind the N2O reduction. We found that a specific manure management practice can lead to increases or reductions in annual N2O emissions depending on environmental variables. The number of freeze-thaw cycles during winter and the amount of rainfall after fertilization in spring were key factors. Therefore, general manure management recommendations should be avoided because interannual weather variability has the potential to determine if a specific practice is beneficial or detrimental. The lower N2O emissions of perennial crops deserve further research attention and must be considered in future land-use decisions. Increasing the proportion of perennial crops in agricultural landscapes may provide an overlooked opportunity to regulate N2O emissions.

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