Soil nitrous oxide emissions following crop residue addition: a meta-analysis

Glob Chang Biol. 2013 Oct;19(10):2956-64. doi: 10.1111/gcb.12274. Epub 2013 Jul 23.


Annual production of crop residues has reached nearly 4 billion metric tons globally. Retention of this large amount of residues on agricultural land can be beneficial to soil C sequestration. Such potential impacts, however, may be offset if residue retention substantially increases soil emissions of N(2)O, a potent greenhouse gas and ozone depletion substance. Residue effects on soil N(2)O emissions have gained considerable attention since early 1990s; yet, it is still a great challenge to predict the magnitude and direction of soil N(2)O emissions following residue amendment. Here, we used a meta-analysis to assess residue impacts on soil N(2)O emissions in relation to soil and residue attributes, i.e., soil pH, soil texture, soil water content, residue C and N input, and residue C : N ratio. Residue effects were negatively associated with C : N ratios, but generally residue amendment could not reduce soil N(2)O emissions, even for C : N ratios well above ca. 30, the threshold for net N immobilization. Residue effects were also comparable to, if not greater than, those of synthetic N fertilizers. In addition, residue effects on soil N(2)O emissions were positively related to the amounts of residue C input as well as residue effects on soil CO(2) respiration. Furthermore, most significant and stimulatory effects occurred at 60-90% soil water-filled pore space and soil pH 7.1-7.8. Stimulatory effects were also present for all soil textures except sand or clay content ≤10%. However, inhibitory effects were found for soils with >90% water-filled pore space. Altogether, our meta-analysis suggests that crop residues played roles beyond N supply for N(2)O production. Perhaps, by stimulating microbial respiration, crop residues enhanced oxygen depletion and therefore promoted anaerobic conditions for denitrification and N(2)O production. Our meta-analysis highlights the necessity to connect the quantity and quality of crop residues with soil properties for predicting soil N(2)O emissions.

Keywords: C : N ratio; arable soil; crop residue; meta-analysis; nitrous oxide; soil CO2 respiration; soil pH; soil texture; water-filled pore space.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Air Pollutants / analysis*
  • Carbon / analysis
  • Crops, Agricultural*
  • Fertilizers*
  • Nitrogen / analysis
  • Nitrous Oxide / analysis*
  • Soil / chemistry*


  • Air Pollutants
  • Fertilizers
  • Soil
  • Carbon
  • Nitrous Oxide
  • Nitrogen