Long-Term Fertilization Alters Nitrous Oxide Cycling Dynamics in Salt Marsh Sediments

Xuefeng Peng, Qixing Ji, John H. Angell, Patrick J. Kearns, Jennifer L. Bowen, Bess B. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Salt marsh sediments are known hotspots for nitrogen cycling, including the production and consumption of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas and ozone-depleting agent. Coastal eutrophication, particularly elevated nitrogen loading from the application of fertilizers, is accelerating nitrogen cycling processes in salt marsh sediments. Here, we examine the impact of long-term fertilization on nitrogen cycling processes with a focus on N2O dynamics in a New England salt marsh. By combining 15N-tracer experiments with numerical modeling, we found that both nitrification and denitrification contribute to net N2O production in fertilized sediments. Long-term fertilization increased the relative importance of nitrification to N2O production, likely a result of increased oxygen penetration from nutrient-induced increases in marsh elevation. Substrate utilization rates of key nitrogen cycling processes revealed links between functions and the corresponding microbial communities. Higher specific substrate utilization rates leading to N2O production from nitrification in fertilized sediments indicate a shift in the community composition of ammonia oxidizers, whereas the lack of change in specific substrate utilization of N2O production from denitrification under long-term fertilization suggests resilience of the denitrifying communities. Both are consistent with previous studies on the functional gene community composition in these experimental plots.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)10832-10842
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number15
StatePublished - Aug 3 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Chemistry
  • Environmental Chemistry


  • N-tracer
  • denitrification
  • eutrophication
  • nitrification
  • nitrous oxide
  • numerical modeling
  • salt marsh sediments


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