Maize root and shoot litter quality controls short-term CO2 and N2O emissions and bacterial community structure of arable soil
Chemical composition of root and shoot litter controls decomposition and, subsequently, C availability for biological nitrogen transformation processes in soils. While aboveground plant residues have been proven to increase N2O emissions, studies on root litter effects are scarce. This study aimed (1) to evaluate how fresh maize root litter affects N2O emissions compared to fresh maize shoot litter, (2) to assess whether N2O emissions are related to the interaction of C and N mineralization from soil and litter, and (3) to analyze changes in soil microbial community structures related to litter input and N2O emissions. To obtain root and shoot litter, maize plants (Zea mays L.) were cultivated with two N fertilizer levels in a greenhouse and harvested. A two-factorial 22 d laboratory incubation experiment was set up with soil from both N levels (N1, N2) and three litter addition treatments (control, root,root+shoot). We measured CO2 and N2O fluxes, analyzed soil mineral N and water-extractable organic C (WEOC) concentrations, and determined quality parameters of maize litter. Bacterial community structures were analyzed using 16SrRNA gene sequencing. Maize litter quality controlled NO−3 and WEOC availability and decomposition-related CO2 emissions. Emissions induced by maize root litter remained low, while high bioavailability of maize shoot litter strongly increased CO<2 and N2O emissions when both root and shoot litter were added. We identified a strong positive correlation between cumulative CO2 and N2O emissions, supporting our hypothesis that litter quality affects denitrification by creating plant-litter-associated anaerobic microsites. The interdependency of C and N availability was validated by analyses of regression. Moreover, there was a strong positive interaction between soil NO−3 and WEOC concentration resulting in much higher N2O emissions, when both NO−3 and WEOC were available. A significant correlation was observed between total CO2 and N2O emissions, the soil bacterial community composition, and the litter level, showing a clear separation of root+shoot samples of all remaining samples. Bacterial di-versity decreased with higher N level and higher input of easily available C. Altogether, changes in bacterial community structure reflected degradability of maize litter with easily degradable C from maize shoot litter favoring fast-growing C-cycling and N-reducing bacteria of the phyla Actinobacteria, Chloroflexi, Firmicutes, and Proteobacteria. In conclusion, litter quality is a major driver of N2O and CO2 emis-sions from crop residues, especially when soil mineral N is limited.