Regulation of nitrous oxide production in low-oxygen waters off the coast of Peru

Claudia Frey, Hermann W. Bange, Eric P. Achterberg, Amal Jayakumar, Carolin R. Löscher, Damian L. Arévalo-Martínez, Elizabeth León-Palmero, Mingshuang Sun, Xin Sun, Ruifang C. Xie, Sergey Oleynik, Bess B. Ward

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

43 Scopus citations


Oxygen-deficient zones (ODZs) are major sites of net natural nitrous oxide (N2O) production and emissions. In order to understand changes in the magnitude of N2O production in response to global change, knowledge on the individual contributions of the major microbial pathways (nitrification and denitrification) to N2O production and their regulation is needed. In the ODZ in the coastal area off Peru, the sensitivity of N2O production to oxygen and organic matter was investigated using 15N tracer experiments in combination with quantitative PCR (qPCR) and microarray analysis of total and active functional genes targeting archaeal amoA and nirS as marker genes for nitrification and denitrification, respectively. Denitrification was responsible for the highest N2O production with a mean of 8.7 nmol L-1 d-1 but up to 118±27.8 nmol L-1 d-1 just below the oxic-anoxic interface. The highest N2O production from ammonium oxidation (AO) of 0.16±0.003 nmol L-1 d-1 occurred in the upper oxycline at O2 concentrations of 10-30 μmol L-1 which coincided with the highest archaeal amoA transcripts/genes. Hybrid N2O formation (i.e., N2O with one N atom from NH+4 and the other from other substrates such as NO-2) was the dominant species, comprising 70 %-85% of total produced N2O from NH+4, regardless of the ammonium oxidation rate or O2 concentrations. Oxygen responses of N2O production varied with substrate, but production and yields were generally highest below 10 μmol L-1 O2. Particulate organic matter additions increased N2O production by denitrification up to 5-fold, suggesting increased N2O production during times of high particulate organic matter export. High N2O yields of 2.1 % from AO were measured, but the overall contribution by AO to N2O production was still an order of magnitude lower than that of denitrification. Hence, these findings show that denitrification is the most important N2O production process in low-oxygen conditions fueled by organic carbon supply, which implies a positive feedback of the total oceanic N2O sources in response to increasing oceanic deoxygenation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number123
Pages (from-to)2263-2287
Number of pages25
Issue number8
StatePublished - Apr 22 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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