Copper availability governs nitrous oxide accumulation in wetland soils and stream sediments

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Neha Sharma, Elaine D. Flynn, Jeffrey G. Catalano , Daniel E. Giammar 


Denitrification is microbially-mediated through enzymes containing metal cofactors. Laboratory studies of pure cultures have highlighted that the availability of Cu, required for the multicopper enzyme nitrous oxide reductase, can limit N2O reduction. However, in natural aquatic systems, such as wetlands and hyporheic zones in stream beds, the role of Cu in controlling denitrification remains incompletely understood. In this study, we collected soils and sediments from three natural environments -- riparian wetlands, marsh wetlands, and a stream -- to investigate their nitrogen species transformation activity at background Cu levels and different supplemented Cu loadings. All of the systems displayed low solid-phase associated Cu (40 - 280 nmol g-1), which made them appropriate sites for evaluating the effect of limited Cu availability on denitrification. In laboratory incubation experiments, high concentrations of N2O accumulated in all microcosms lacking Cu amendment except for one stream sediment sample. With Cu added to provide dissolved concentrations at trace levels (10-300 nM), reduction of N2O to N2 in the wetland soils and stream sediments was enhanced. A kinetic model could account for the trends in nitrogen species by combining the reactions for microbial reduction of NO3- to NO2-/N2O/N2 and abiotic reduction of NO2- to N2. The model revealed that the rate of N2O to N2 conversion increased significantly in the presence of Cu. For riparian wetland soils and stream sediments, the kinetic model also suggested that overall denitrification is driven by abiotic reduction of NO2- in the presence of inorganic electron donors. This study demonstrated that natural aquatic systems containing Cu at concentrations less than or equal to crustal abundances may display incomplete reduction of N2O to N2 that would cause N2O accumulation and release to the atmosphere.



Biogeochemistry, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Earth Sciences, Engineering, Environmental Engineering, Geochemistry, Life Sciences


wetlands, hyporheic zone, denitrification, nitrous oxide, copper, bioavailability, organic carbon


Published: 2021-12-15 10:56

Last Updated: 2022-01-19 15:15

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CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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