Soil N2O emissions in Mediterranean arable crops as affected by reduced tillage and N rate

  • Iride VolpiEmail author
  • Giorgio Ragaglini
  • Nicoletta Nassi o Di Nasso
  • Enrico Bonari
  • Simona Bosco
Original Article


Nitrous oxide (N2O) is emitted from agricultural soils as a product of biotic pathways of the nitrogen (N) cycle. Agricultural practices may affect soil water content, temperature and N availability, and consequently N2O emissions. Thus, it is necessary to identify strategies to mitigate N2O emissions while maintaining crop yields. This two-year study on durum wheat and sunflower in a Mediterranean environment evaluated the influence of tillage intensity (plowing vs. minimum tillage) and N fertilizer rate (N0, N1 and N2: 0, 110 and 170 kg N ha−1, respectively, for wheat, and 0, 80 and 140 kg N ha−1, respectively, for sunflower) on crop yields and N2O emissions. Reducing the N fertilizer rate by ca. 40% resulted in an average mitigation of ca. 35% of cumulative N2O emissions during the growing season of both crops. From N1 to N2, the grain yield of sunflower did not increase, but that of wheat did so by ca. 25%. Indeed, yield-scaled N2O emissions of N0, were the highest in wheat (259 ± 45 g N2O–N Mg−1 dry grain, 12.2 ± 2.0 g N2O–N kg−1 N uptake) and the lowest in sunflower (62 ± 7 g N2O–N Mg−1 dry grain, 2.0 ± 0.2 g N2O–N kg−1 N uptake). Reducing tillage intensity decreased cumulative N2O emissions significantly only for sunflower during the second year (by 35%), but not for any other treatment. The effect of the reduced tillage depth on grain yield varied between the 2 years, being negative only under wetter growing seasons (− 12% in wheat and − 9% in sunflower).


Minimum tillage Durum wheat Sunflower Nitrous oxide Yield-scaled emissions Rainfall 



This research was conducted with support from the LIFE financial instrument of the EU within the framework of the IPNOA (“Improved flux Prototypes for N2O emission reduction from Agriculture”) project (LIFE11 ENV/IT/000302, The authors would like to thank Luigi Fabbrini, Marco Quattrucci, Cristiano Tozzini, Fabio Taccini and the entire staff at “Terre Regionali Toscane, Center for Innovation Testing” for preparing and maintaining the field experiment and for their valuable support. We also thank all those at the Institute of Life Sciences of Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna who participated in the field experiment.

Supplementary material

10705_2019_10032_MOESM1_ESM.docx (160 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 160 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Life SciencesScuola Superiore Sant’AnnaPisaItaly

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