Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 19, Issue 5, pp 2176–2189 | Cite as

High soil temperatures alter the rates of nitrification, denitrification and associated N2O emissions

  • Thang V. Lai
  • Ryan Farquharson
  • Matthew D. DentonEmail author
Soils, Sec 1 • Soil Organic Matter Dynamics and Nutrient Cycling • Research Article



The responses of nitrification and denitrification are not well characterised at temperatures above 35 °C, which is the focus of our study.

Materials and methods

Soils collected from two dairy pastures (Victoria, Australia) were incubated at 10 to 45 °C in the dark for 5 to 10 days following amendment with 100 μg N g−1 either as NH4NO3, 14NH415NO3 or 15NH415NO3 (10 atom% 15N excess) at 50% water-filled pore space. To detect N2O from heterotrophic nitrification, acetylene (0.01% v/v) was used in a subset of samples amended with 15NH415NO3. Atom% 15N enrichments of NO3ˉ, N2O and N2 were measured during the experiment to evaluate the responses of nitrification and denitrification to temperature.

Results and discussion

N2O production from the two soils increased with rising temperature and peaked between 35 and 40 °C. N2O production from nitrification and denitrification both had similar thermal responses, which were different to N2 production. The N2O/N2 ratio decreased from > 4 at 35–40 °C to 0.5 at 45 °C, due to greater N2 than N2O production in the Dermosol. Heterotrophic nitrifiers oxidised NH4+ and released N2O at 35–40 °C, suggesting a role for heterotrophs in N cycling under warm climates. Topt for nitrification was between 35 and 40 °C, which is higher than reported previously. A short-term effect of high temperatures could provide NH4+ for the growth of crops but may also decrease soil C pools.


Increasing temperature above 35 °C altered the rates of nitrification, denitrification associated N2O and N2 production. Nitrification and denitrification peaked at 35–40 °C in the Chromosol and Dermosol. The production of N2 increased rapidly above 40 °C, which may be related to high soil respiration rates that likely decreased O2 availability, thus expanding the anaerobic microsites; such circumstances increased the reduction of N2O to N2 production from the Dermosol.


C pools Heterotrophs N2O reduction N2O/N2 ratios 



This study was assisted through funding from the Vietnam International Education Development (VIED), The University of Adelaide and Tim Healy Memorial Scholarship (Future Farm Industries CRC). We acknowledge the assistance of Murray Unkovich (University of Adelaide), Nanthi Bolan (University of Newcastle) in assistance with methods, Kevin Kelly (Department of Economic Development, VIC, Australia) in providing site access for soil collection and environmental data, Nigel Charman for assistance with soil sampling and Ann McNeill and Nang Nguyen for technical assistance with mineral nitrogen analysis and soil physical measurements.


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© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Agriculture, Food & WineThe University of AdelaideAdelaide,Australia
  2. 2.The University of HueHue CityVietnam
  3. 3.CSIRO Agriculture and FoodAdelaide,Australia

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