Progress in Quantifying Rates and Product Ratios of Microbial Denitrification Using Stable Isotope Approaches
Abstract:Although it is known since long that microbial denitrification plays a central role in N cycling in soils due to loss of nutrient N, emissions of N2O and lowering of N leaching, few data at the field scale are available due to the difficulty in measurement. In recent years, stable isotope signatures of N2O such as d18O, average d15N (d15Nbulk) and 15N site preference (SP = difference in d15N between the central and peripheral N positions of the asymmetric N2O molecule) have been used to constrain the atmospheric N2O budget and to characterize N2O turnover processes including N2O production and reduction by microbial denitrification. However, the use of this approach to study N2O dynamics in soils requires knowledge of isotope fractionation factors for the various partial processes involved, e.g. N2O production by nitrification or fungal/bacterial denitrification, and N2O reduction by bacterial denitrification.
Here we present recent progress on the principles of isotope fractionation modeling to estimate N2O reduction and on the role of microbial groups and their specific impact on isotope values. Moreover, we report and discuss approaches to determine isotope values of produced N2O prior to its reduction as well as enrichment factors of N2O reduction. Finally, a variety of results from lab and field studies will be shown were N2O reduction estimates by isotope fractionation modeling are validated by independent measurements using 15N tracing or He/O2 incubations. Methodical improvements to increase sensitivity of the 15N tracing approach will be briefly addressed.
We conclude that up to now SP of soil-emitted N2O proved to be suitable to constrain the product ratio of denitrification if N2O fluxes are dominated by bacterial denitrification. Although this approach is not yet precise enough for robust quantification of N2 fluxes, improved precision can be obtained in future, if further progress in understanding the control of fractionation factors of production and reduction and identifying N2O formation by processes other than bacterial denitrification is achieved.