Knowledge for better food systems

Paper: Livestock and nitrous oxide

Wolf B, Zheng X, Brüggeman, Chen W, Dannenmann, Han X, Sutton M, Wu H, Yao Z, Butterbach-Bahl "Grazing-induced reduction of natural nitrous oxide release from continental steppe", Nature, 464, 881-884 (8 April 2010) Abstract
Wolf B, Zheng X, Brüggeman, Chen W, Dannenmann, Han X, Sutton M, Wu H, Yao Z, Butterbach-Bahl "Grazing-induced reduction of natural nitrous oxide release from continental steppe", Nature, 464, 881-884 (8 April 2010) Abstract Atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gas nitrous oxide (N2O) have increased significantly since pre-industrial times owing to anthropogenic perturbation of the global nitrogen cycle, with animal production being one of the main contributors. Grasslands cover about 20 per cent of the temperate land surface of the Earth and are widely used as pasture. It has been suggested that high animal stocking rates and the resulting elevated nitrogen input increase N2O emissions. Internationally agreed methods to upscale the effect of increased livestock numbers on N2O emissions are based directly on per capita nitrogen inputs. However, measurements of grassland N2O fluxes are often performed over short time periods, with low time resolution and mostly during the growing season. In consequence, our understanding of the daily and seasonal dynamics of grassland N2O fluxes remains limited. Here the authors report year-round N2O flux measurements with high and low temporal resolution at ten steppe grassland sites in Inner Mongolia, China. They show that short-lived pulses of N2O emission during spring thaw dominate the annual N2O budget at their study sites. The N2O emission pulses are highest in ungrazed steppe and decrease with increasing stocking rate, suggesting that grazing decreases rather than increases N2O emissions. The results show that the stimulatory effect of higher stocking rates on nitrogen cycling and, hence, on N2O emission is more than offset by the effects of a parallel reduction in microbial biomass, inorganic nitrogen production and wintertime water retention. By neglecting these freeze–thaw interactions, existing approaches may have systematically overestimated N2O emissions over the last century for semi-arid, cool temperate grasslands by up to 72 per cent. You can download the paper here if you have subscription access. See here for an article covering the research findings.
 

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