Terrestrial systems are major sources of atmospheric N2O, which accounts for about 6 per cent of the current greenhouse effect (IPCC, 2007). Production of N2O in soil is predominantly biological, with bacteria possessing N2O-genic enzymes, whilst the involvement of archaea or fungi is currently uncertain. Here we explore the biogeochemical pathways in which these microbes can produce and reduce N2O, consider the approaches available for determining the predominant N2O-producing process under certain conditions, highlight any current uncertainties in microbial sources of N2O to direct future research, and examine how understanding the N2O source can aid us in managing terrestrial systems to lower emissions of this greenhouse gas.

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