Sheep excreta cause no positive priming of peat-derived CO2 and N2O emissions
Large areas of peatlands in Germany and the Netherlands are affected by drainage and high nitrogen deposition. Sheep grazing is a common extensive management activity on drained peatlands, in particular on nature protection areas. However, input of easily mineralisable material such as sheep excrements could enhance degradation of soil organic carbon (Corg), thereby increasing the effect of these ecosystems on national GHG budgets. Thus, a microcosm experiment on the influence of sheep excreta on GHG emissions from a histic Gleysol with strongly degraded peat was set up. The 15N and 13C stable isotope tracer technique was used to partition sources of CO2 and N2O. Labeled sheep faeces and urine were obtained by feeding enriched material. Undisturbed soil columns were treated with surface application of urine, faeces or mixtures of both in different label combinations to distinguish between direct effects and possible priming effects. Incubation was done under stable temperature and precipitation conditions. Fluxes as well as 15N and 13C enrichment of N2O and CO2, respectively, were measured for three weeks. Addition of sheep excreta increased emission of total CO2 in proportion to the added carbon amounts. There was no CO2 priming in the peat. No effect on CH4 and N2O was observed under the aerobic experimental conditions. The N2O–N source shifted from peat to excreta, which indicates negative priming, but priming was not significant. The results indicate that sheep excreta do not significantly increase GHG emissions from degraded peat soils. Considering the degraded peatland preserving benefits, sheep grazing on peatlands affected by drainage and high nitrogen deposition should be further promoted.