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The soil N cycle: new insights and key challenges

Journal article
Authors Jan W. van Groenigen
Dries Huygens
Pascal Boeckx
Tom W. Kuyper
I. Luebbers
Tobias Rütting
Peter M. Groffmann
Published in Soil
Volume 1
Issue 1
Pages 235-256
ISSN 2199-3971
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 235-256
Language en
Links dx.doi.org/10.5194/soil-1-235-2015
Subject categories Environmental Sciences, Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences, Soil Science

Abstract

The study of soil N cycling processes has been, is, and will be at the centre of attention in soil science research. The importance of N as a nutrient for all biota; the ever-increasing rates of its anthropogenic input in terrestrial (agro)ecosystems; its resultant losses to the environment; and the complexity of the biological, physical, and chemical factors that regulate N cycling processes all contribute to the necessity of further understanding, measuring, and altering the soil N cycle. Here, we review important insights with respect to the soil N cycle that have been made over the last decade, and present a personal view on the key challenges of future research. We identify three key challenges with respect to basic N cycling processes producing gaseous emissions: 1. quantifying the importance of nitrifier denitrification and its main controlling factors; 2. characterizing the greenhouse gas mitigation potential and microbiological basis for N2O consumption; 3. characterizing hotspots and hot moments of denitrification Furthermore, we identified a key challenge with respect to modelling: 1. disentangling gross N transformation rates using advanced 15N / 18O tracing models Finally, we propose four key challenges related to how ecological interactions control N cycling processes: 1. linking functional diversity of soil fauna to N cycling processes beyond mineralization; 2. determining the functional relationship between root traits and soil N cycling; 3. characterizing the control that different types of mycorrhizal symbioses exert on N cycling; 4. quantifying the contribution of non-symbiotic pathways to total N fixation fluxes in natural systems We postulate that addressing these challenges will constitute a comprehensive research agenda with respect to the N cycle for the next decade. Such an agenda would help us to meet future challenges on food and energy security, biodiversity conservation, water and air quality, and climate stability.

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