Carbon availability and nitrogen mineralization control denitrification rates and product stoichiometry during initial maize litter decomposition
Returning crop residues to agricultural fields can accelerate nutrient turnover and increase N2O and NO emissions. Increased microbial respiration may lead to formation of local hotspots with anoxic or microoxic conditions promoting denitrification. To investigate the effect of litter qualityon CO2, NO, N2O, and N2 emissions, we conducted a laboratory incubation study in a controlled atmosphere (He/O2, or pure He) with different maize litter types (Zea mays L., young leaves and roots, straw). We applied the N2O isotopocule mapping approach to distinguish between N2O emitting processes and partitioned the CO2 efflux into litter- and soil organic matter (SOM)-derived CO2 based on the natural 13C isotope abundances. Maize litter increased total and SOM derived CO2 emissions leading to a positive priming effect. Although C turnover was high, NO and N2O fluxes were low under oxic conditions as high O2 diffusivity limited denitrification. In the first week, nitrification contributed to NO emissions, which increased with increasing net N mineralization. Isotopocule mapping indicated that bacterial processes dominated N2O formation in litter-amended soil in the beginning of the incubation experiment with a subsequent shift towards fungal denitrification. With onset of anoxic incubation conditions after 47 days, N fluxes strongly increased, and heterotrophic bacterial denitrification became the main source of N2O. The N2O/(N2O+N2) ratio decreased with increasing litter C:N ratio and Corg:NO3−ratio in soil, confirming that the ratio of available C:N is a major control of denitrification product stoichiometry.