Sheep urine patch N2O emissions are lower from extensively-managed than intensively-managed grasslands
Marsden, K.A.; Holmberg, J.A.; Jones, D.L.; Chadwick, D.R.
Agriculture Ecosystems and Environment 265: 264-274
ISSN/ISBN: 0167-8809 DOI: 10.1016/j.agee.2018.06.025
A large number of sheep graze extensively managed grasslands, including upland and hill areas. Excretal deposition of nitrogen (N) to upland soil is a potentially large source of the powerful greenhouse gas (GHG), nitrous oxide (N2O), however, few studies have assessed urine-patch N2O emissions from upland areas. Current default excretal N2O emission factors (EFs) are based on intensively managed lowland systems, with cattle excreta as the N source. We hypothesised that N2O emissions could differ substantially from those of lowland systems, due to differences in soil type, climate, topography, pasture composition and management factors along altitudinal and productivity gradients. We investigated N2O emission factors across two seasons (spring and autumn), for an extensive semi-improved, temperate grassland using IPCC-compliant and representative sheep urine patches (in terms of urine chemical composition, urine patch size and N loading rates). An automated GHG monitoring system provided high-frequency GHG data from sheep urine patches (756 and 1112 kg N ha(-1) applied in spring and autumn, respectively), reference artificial sheep urine patches (1066 and 1004 kg N ha(-1) applied in spring and autumn, respectively) and control treatments. In spring, urine patch N2O emission factors were -0.02 +/- 0.04 (artificial sheep urine) and 0.03 +/- 0.09% (real sheep urine) of the applied N; in autumn emission factors were 0.02 +/- 0.03 (artificial sheep urine) and 0.08 +/- 0.04% (real sheep urine) of the applied N. These values are much lower than default inventory values (1% of applied N) for excreta deposited by grazing livestock. There was a greater pasture foliar N content following urine application in spring as opposed to autumn, and a significantly longer residence time of extractable mineral N in autumn. Our findings demonstrate the importance of generating country-specific N2O EFs based on altitude/productivity gradients of livestock production, with implications for national inventories and the accuracy of sustainability metrics of lamb produced in the UK uplands.