Nitrous oxide emissions from soils: how well do we understand the processes and their controls?

K Butterbach-Bahl, Elizabeth Baggs, M Dannenmann, R Kiese, S Zechmeister-Boltenstern

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Although it is well established that soils are the dominating source for
atmospheric nitrous oxide (N2O), we are still struggling to fully understand
the complexity of the underlying microbial production and consumption
processes and the links to biotic (e.g. inter- and intraspecies competition,
food webs, plant–microbe interaction) and abiotic (e.g. soil climate, physics
and chemistry) factors. Recent work shows that a better understanding of
the composition and diversity of the microbial community across a variety
of soils in different climates and under different land use, as well as
plant–microbe interactions in the rhizosphere, may provide a key to better
understand the variability of N2O fluxes at the soil–atmosphere interface.
Moreover, recent insights into the regulation of the reduction of N2O to dinitrogen (N2) have increased our understanding of N2O exchange. This
improved process understanding, building on the increased use of isotope
tracing techniques and metagenomics, needs to go along with improvements
in measurement techniques for N2O (and N2) emission in order to obtain
robust field and laboratory datasets for different ecosystem types. Advances
in both fields are currently used to improve process descriptions in biogeochemical
models, which may eventually be used not only to test our current
process understanding from the microsite to the field level, but also used as
tools for up-scaling emissions to landscapes and regions and to explore feedbacks
of soil N2O emissions to changes in environmental conditions, land
management and land use
Original languageEnglish
Article number10.1098/rstb.2013.0122
JournalPhilosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2013


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