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https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-38
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/bg-2020-38
© Author(s) 2020. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

  25 Feb 2020

25 Feb 2020

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This preprint is currently under review for the journal BG.

Methane efflux from an American bison herd

Paul C. Stoy1,2,3, Adam A. Cook3, John E. Dore3,4, William Kleindl3, E. N. Jack Brookshire3, and Tobias Gerken5 Paul C. Stoy et al.
  • 1Department of Biological Systems Engineering, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
  • 2Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA
  • 3Department of Land Resources and Environmental Sciences, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA
  • 4Montana Institute on Ecosystems, Montana State University, Bozeman, MT, USA
  • 5Department of Meteorology and Atmospheric Science, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA, USA

Abstract. American bison (Bison bison L.) have recovered from the brink of extinction over the past century. Bison reintroduction creates multiple environmental benefits, but their impacts on greenhouse gas emissions are poorly understood. Bison are thought to have produced some 2 Tg year−1 of the estimated 9–15 Tg year−1 of pre-industrial enteric methane emissions, but few contemporary measurements have been made due to their mobile grazing habits and safety issues associated with direct measurements. Here, we measure methane and carbon dioxide fluxes from a bison herd on an enclosed pasture during daytime periods in winter using eddy covariance. Methane emissions from the study area were negligible in the absence of bison (mean ± standard deviation = 0.0024 ± 0.042 μmol m−2 s−1) and were significantly greater than zero, 0.048 ± 0.082 μmol m−2 s−1 with a positively skewed distribution, when bison were present. We coupled an eddy covariance flux footprint analysis with bison location estimates from automated camera images to calculate a mean (median) methane flux of 38 μmol s−1 (22 μmol s−1) per animal, or 52 ± 14 g CH4 day−1 (31 g CH4 day−1), less than half of measured emission rates for range cattle. Emission estimates are subject to spatial uncertainty in bison location measurements and the flux footprint, but from our measurements there is no evidence that bison methane emissions exceed those from cattle. We caution however that our measurements were made during winter and that evening measurements of bison distributions were not possible using our approach. Annual measurements are ultimately necessary to determine the greenhouse gas burden of bison grazing systems. Eddy covariance is a promising technique for measuring ruminant methane emissions in conventional and alternate grazing systems and can be used to compare them going forward.

Paul C. Stoy et al.

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Paul C. Stoy et al.

Paul C. Stoy et al.

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Short summary
The reintroduction of American bison creates multiple environmental benefits. Ruminants like bison also emit methane – a potent greenhouse gas – to the atmosphere, which has not been measured to date in a field setting. We measured methane efflux from an American bison herd during winter using eddy covariance. Automated cameras were used to approximate their location to calculate per-animal flux. From the measurements, bison do not emit more methane than the cattle they often replace.
The reintroduction of American bison creates multiple environmental benefits. Ruminants like...
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