Articles | Volume 9, issue 10
Biogeosciences, 9, 3999–4012, 2012

Special issue: Nitrogen and global change

Biogeosciences, 9, 3999–4012, 2012

Research article 17 Oct 2012

Research article | 17 Oct 2012

The response of methane and nitrous oxide fluxes to forest change in Europe

P. Gundersen1, J. R. Christiansen1,**, G. Alberti2, N. Brüggemann3,*, S. Castaldi4, R. Gasche3, B. Kitzler5, L. Klemedtsson6, R. Lobo-do-Vale7, F. Moldan8, T. Rütting6, P. Schleppi9, P. Weslien6, and S. Zechmeister-Boltenstern10 P. Gundersen et al.
  • 1Forest & Landscape, University of Copenhagen, Rolighedsvej 23, 1958 Frederiksberg C, Denmark
  • 2CNR-IBIMET, Italy – Present address: Department of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences University of Udine, via delle Scienze 208,
    33100 Udine, Italy
  • 3Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Institute of Meteorology and Climate Research, Atmospheric Environmental Research (IMK-IFU), Kreuzeckbahnstaße. 19, 82467 Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany
  • 4Dipartimento di Scienze Ambientali, Seconda Università di Napoli, Caserta, Italy
  • 5Federal Research and Training Centre for Forests, Natural Hazards and Landscape (BFW), Austria
  • 6Department of Biological and Environmental Sciences, University of Gothenburg, P.O. Box 461, 405 30 Gothenburg, Sweden
  • 7Agronomy Institute, Technical University of Lisbon, Portugal
  • 8IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute, Box 53021, 400 14 Gothenburg, Sweden
  • 9Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research, Zürcherstr. 111, 8903 Birmensdorf, Switzerland
  • 10Institute of Soil Research,University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences, Peter-Jordanstrasse 82, 1190 Vienna, Austria
  • *currently at: Forschungszentrum Jülich GmbH, Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Agrosphere (IBG-3), 52425 Jülich, Germany
  • **currently at: Department of Forest Sciences, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC, V6T1Z4, Canada

Abstract. Forests in Europe are changing due to interactions between climate change, nitrogen (N) deposition and new forest management practices. The concurrent impact on the forest greenhouse gas (GHG) balance is at present difficult to predict due to a lack of knowledge on controlling factors of GHG fluxes and response to changes in these factors. To improve the mechanistic understanding of the ongoing changes, we studied the response of soil–atmosphere exchange of nitrous oxide (N2O) and methane (CH4) at twelve experimental or natural gradient forest sites, representing anticipated future forest change. The experimental manipulations, one or more per site, included N addition (4 sites), changes of climate (temperature, 1 site; precipitation, 2 sites), soil hydrology (3 sites), harvest intensity (1 site), wood ash fertilisation (1 site), pH gradient in organic soil (1 site) and afforestation of cropland (1 site).

On average, N2O emissions increased by 0.06 ± 0.03 (range 0–0.3) g N2O-N m−2 yr−1 across all treatments on mineral soils, but the increase was up to 10 times higher in an acidic organic soil. Soil moisture together with mineral soil C / N ratio and pH were found to significantly influence N2O emissions across all treatments. Emissions were increased by elevated N deposition, especially in interaction with increased soil moisture. High pH reduced the formation of N2O, even under otherwise favourable soil conditions.

Oxidation (uptake) of CH4 was on average reduced from 0.16 ± 0.02 to 0.04 ± 0.05 g CH4-C m−2 yr−1 by the investigated treatments. The CH4 exchange was significantly influenced by soil moisture and soil C / N ratio across all treatments, and CH4 emissions occurred only in wet or water-saturated conditions.

For most of the investigated forest manipulations or natural gradients, the response of both N2O and CH4 fluxes was towards reducing the overall GHG forest sink. The most resilient forests were dry Mediterranean forests, as well as forests with high soil C / N ratio or high soil pH. Mitigation strategies may focus on (i) sustainable management of wet forest areas and forested peatlands, (ii) continuous forest cover management, (iii) reducing atmospheric N input and, thus, N availability, and (iv) improving neutralisation capacity of acid soils (e.g. wood ash application).

Final-revised paper