Current and Future Impacts of Atmospheric Nitrogen Deposition on Grassland GHG Balance

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Tara W Hudiburg1,2, Nuria Gomez-Casanovas3, Carl Bernacchi3 and Evan H DeLucia4, (1)UIUC, Champaign, IL, United States, (2)University of Idaho, Forest, Rangeland, and Fire Sciences, Moscow, ID, United States, (3)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Urbana, IL, United States, (4)University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, Plant Biology, Urbana, IL, United States
Nitrogen deposition (Ndep), a consequence of human activities, affects the greenhouse gas (GHG; CO2, N2O and CH4) sink capacity of terrestrial ecosystems. Grasslands play an important role in determining the concentration of GHGs in the atmosphere. While they store greater than 10% of terrestrial net primary productivity and sustain up to 30% of the world’s organic C in their soils, grasslands also may be responsible for significant CH4 and N2O emissions. Many fertilization experiments have examined the response of grasslands to N loads of 50 to 100 kg N ha-1 yr-1. However, few studies have been designed to examine ecosystem responses to low N loads (< 20 kg N ha-1 yr-1) which they are likely to experience in the future according to the new IPCC representative concentration pathway (RCP) scenarios. This is consistent with the notion that the N saturation threshold at which Net Ecosystem Productivity (NEP) levels off, or the dose-response relationships between N2O, N-trace gases, CH4, and Ndep in grasslands have not being well characterized. We combined data from grassland ecosystems in major climate zones and biogeochemical modeling (DayCent v. 4.5) to characterize the dose-response relationship between increased Ndep and GHG, and other N-trace gases fluxes and N leaching of these grasslands. We used the synthesized data to evaluate the modeling for above- and belowground NPP, N2O, CH4, and response to N fertilization and climate. We found that in most cases increased Ndep will continue to increase the non-CO2 GHG source strength of grasslands, whereas NEP will saturate at N levels ranging from 10 – 70 kg N ha-1 yr-1depending on the precipitation, fire regime, and/or species composition of the grassland. Given these thresholds, we modeled the potential net GHG sink capacity for the world’s major grassland biomes using several of the IPCC RCP scenarios which include a range of climate and Ndep trajectories. Our results suggest that although global grassland C storage can increase by up to 30% with increased Ndep, the increased non-CO2 emissions significantly reduce the net GHG sink capacity of grasslands. Improved understanding on how grasslands respond to Ndep loads that agree with future scenarios is essential to predicting the role of pastures on the global C and N cycles.