Legacy effects of land use on soil nitrous oxide emissions in annual crop and perennial grassland ecosystems

Michael Abraha, Ilya Gelfand, Stephen K. Hamilton, Jiquan Chen, G. Philip Robertson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

19 Scopus citations


Land use conversions into and out of agriculture may influence soil–atmosphere greenhouse gas fluxes for many years. We tested the legacy effects of land use on cumulative soil nitrous oxide (N2O) fluxes for 5 yr following conversion of 22-yr-old Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) grasslands and conventionally tilled agricultural fields (AGR) to continuous no-till corn, switchgrass, and restored prairie. An unconverted CRP field served as a reference. We assessed the labile soil C pool of the upper 10 cm in 2009 (the conversion year) and in 2014 using short-term soil incubations. We also measured in situ soil N2O fluxes biweekly from 2009 through 2014 using static chambers except when soils were frozen. The labile C pool was approximately twofold higher in soils previously in CRP than in those formerly in tilled cropland. Five-year cumulative soil N2O emissions were approximately threefold higher in the corn system on former CRP than on former cropland despite similar fertilization rates (~184 kg N·ha−1·yr−1). The lower cumulative emissions from corn on former cropland were similar to emissions from switchgrass that was fertilized less (~57 kg N·ha−1·yr−1), regardless of former land use, and lowest emissions were observed from the unfertilized restored prairie and reference systems. Findings support the hypothesis that soil labile carbon levels modulate the response of soil N2O emissions to nitrogen inputs, with soils higher in labile carbon but otherwise similar, in this case reflecting land use history, responding more strongly to added nitrogen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1362-1369
Number of pages8
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 Jul 2018


  • Conservation Reserve Program
  • climate change
  • corn
  • emission factor
  • grassland
  • greenhouse gas
  • labile soil carbon
  • land use change
  • no till
  • restored prairie
  • smooth brome grass
  • switchgrass

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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