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Non-legume cover crops can increase non-growing season nitrous oxide emissions

Thomas, B.W., Hao, X., Larney, F.J., Goyer, C., Chantigny, M.H., Charles, A. (2017). Non-legume cover crops can increase non-growing season nitrous oxide emissions, 81(1), 189-199.


© Soil Science Society of America, 5585 Guilford Rd., Madison WI 53711 USA. All Rights reserved. Cover crops retain post-harvest nutrients but how they impact non-growing season nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions is unclear. Therefore, we quantified how cover crop type (fall rye [Secale cereale L.] or oilseed radish [Raphanus sativus L.]) and fertilizer source (compost or inorganic fertilizer) affected N2OO emissions, soil water-extractable organic C (WEOC) and nitrate (N3O) dynamics over two non-growing seasons. A treatment with no fertilizer or cover crop was also included. Weekly, N2O fluxes were determined using vented static chambers; soil WEOC and N3O-N concentrations were measured monthly. Each non-growing season, mean N2O fluxes were 74 to 450% greater in the winter (21 December-20 March) than spring (21 March-20 June) or fall (22 September-20 December). In winter 2014-2015, oilseed radish increased the mean N2O flux by 39 and 323% compared with fall rye and no cover crop, respectively, while the mean N2O fluxes were strongly correlated to the pre-winter (16 Dec. 2014) N3O concentrations (r = 0.96; P < 0.001), indicating N3O levels < 6 mg N3O-N kg-1 limited N2O fluxes. In 2014-2015, fall rye and oilseed radish had 76 and 154% greater cumulative N2O emissions than amended soils with no cover crop, respectively. Across both winters, an exponential model explained 67% of variability between the pre-winter WEOC to N3O ratio and N2O fluxes, indicating that organic C and N3O controlled over-winter N2O fluxes. Non-legume cover crops increased non-growing season N2O emissions, suggesting that cover crops concentrate denitrification substrates in root-Associated soil to enhance N2O fluxes.

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