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Reducing nitrous oxide emissions and optimizing nitrogen-use efficiency in dryland crop rotations with different nitrogen rates


Recent interests in improving agricultural production while minimizing environmental footprints emphasized the need for research on management strategies that reduce nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions and increase nitrogen-use efficiency (NUE) of cropping systems. This study aimed to evaluate N2O emissions, annualized crop grain yield, emission factor, and yield-scaled- and NUE-scaled N2O emissions under continuous spring wheat (Triticum aestivum L.) (CW) and spring wheat–pea (Pisum sativum L.) (WP) rotations with four N fertilization rates (0, 50, 100, and 150 kg N ha−1). The N2O fluxes peaked immediately after N fertilization, intense precipitation, and snowmelt, which accounted for 75–85% of the total annual flux. Cumulative N2O flux usually increased with increased N fertilization rate in all crop rotations and years. Annualized crop yield and NUE were greater in WP than CW for 0 kg N ha−1 in all years, but the trend reversed with 100 kg N ha−1 in 2013 and 2015. Crop yield maximized at 100 kg N ha−1, but NUE declined linearly with increased N fertilization rate in all crop rotations and years. As N fertilization rate increased, N fertilizer-scaled N2O flux decreased, but NUE-scaled N2O flux increased non-linearly in all years, regardless of crop rotations. The yield-scaled N2O flux decreased from 0 to 50 kg N ha−1 and then increased with increased N fertilization rate. Because of non-significant difference of N2O fluxes between 50 and 100 kg N ha−1, but increased crop yield, N2O emissions can be minimized while dryland crop yields and NUE can be optimized with 100 kg N ha−1, regardless of crop rotations.

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CO2 :

Carbon dioxide


Continuous spring wheat


Greenhouse gas


Global warming potential


Nitrous oxide


N-use efficiency


Spring wheat–pea rotation


Water-filled pore space


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We thank Michael Johnson and Mark Gaffri for their help in the management of experimental field plots and Joy Barsotti, Jana Seright, and Emily Reese for collecting gas, soil, and crop samples in the field and analyzing in the laboratory.

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Correspondence to Upendra M. Sainju.

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Sainju, U.M., Ghimire, R., Mishra, U. et al. Reducing nitrous oxide emissions and optimizing nitrogen-use efficiency in dryland crop rotations with different nitrogen rates. Nutr Cycl Agroecosyst (2020).

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  • Crop production
  • Dryland cropping systems
  • Emission factor
  • Management practices
  • Nitrogen rate
  • N2O flux