Comparative effects of prolonged freshwater and saline flooding on nitrogen cycling in an agricultural soil

Antonio Rafael Sánchez-Rodríguez, David R. Chadwick, Gemma S. Tatton, Paul W. Hill, Davey L. Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


Due to climate change, the frequency and duration of flood events are predicted to increase in many regions of the world. This is expected to cause large changes in soil functioning and to a progressive decline in soil quality such as reduced rates of nutrient cycling, enhanced greenhouse gas emissions and loss of soil biodiversity. There is a knowledge gap, however, on how temperate agricultural soils under different management practices (e.g. manure application) respond to prolonged river or coastal flooding. The main objective of this work was to determine the effects of a simulated prolonged flooding with saline and freshwater on soil N cycling, following application of a low C:N organic amendment (broiler litter) at two temperatures, representative of a winter and a spring flood event. Using laboratory mesocosms we simulated prolonged winter (6 °C) and spring (14 °C) flooding of soil amended with broiler litter. We also compared the effects of inundation with either river (freshwater) or coastal (saline) water. An agricultural grassland soil (Eutric Cambisol) was subjected to different combinations of treatments (flood with fresh or saline water, winter vs spring temperatures, with/without poultry manure). The impact of these treatments on soil solution N dynamics, greenhouse gas emissions (CO2, CH4, N2O) and microbial community structure (by PLFA analysis) were evaluated over an 11 week simulated flood event followed by an 8 week soil recovery period (without flood). Overall, potential losses of NH4 + and cumulative GHG emissions were increased by flooding and the presence of manure. CH4 emissions were found to dominate under freshwater flooding conditions and N2O under saline flooding. Significant releases of GHG occurred during both flooding and after floodwater removal. Temperature was less influential on regulating GHG under the different treatments. These releases in GHG were associated with disruption in N cycling and changes in soil microbial composition and these changes persisted after floodwater removal. Extreme flooding negatively impacts soil functioning, however, the magnitude of any changes remain critically dependent on flood duration and source of flood water, and management conditions. Further work is required at the field scale to understand the molecular basis of the responses observed in this study.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)56-70
Number of pages15
JournalApplied Soil Ecology
Publication statusPublished - 1 Apr 2018
Externally publishedYes


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