Influence of historic land use change on the biosphere-atmosphere-exchange of C and N trace gases in the humid, subtropical region of Queensland

Rowlings, David William (2010) Influence of historic land use change on the biosphere-atmosphere-exchange of C and N trace gases in the humid, subtropical region of Queensland. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Increases in atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases (GHGs) carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) due to human activities have been linked to climate change. GHG emissions from land use change and agriculture have been identified as significant contributors to both Australia’s and the global GHG budget. This is expected to increase over the coming decades as rates of agriculture intensification and land use change accelerate to support population growth and food production. Limited data exists on CO2, CH4 and N2O trace gas fluxes from subtropical or tropical soils and land uses. To develop effective mitigation strategies a full global warming potential (GWP) accounting methodology is required that includes emissions of the three primary greenhouse gases. Mitigation strategies that focus on one gas only can inadvertently increase emissions of another. For this reason, detailed inventories of GHGs from soils and vegetation under individual land uses are urgently required for subtropical Australia. This study aimed to quantify GHG emissions over two consecutive years from three major land uses; a well-established, unfertilized subtropical grass-legume pasture, a 30 year (lychee) orchard and a remnant subtropical Gallery rainforest, all located near Mooloolah, Queensland. GHG fluxes were measured using a combination of high resolution automated sampling, coarser spatial manual sampling and laboratory incubations. Comparison between the land uses revealed that land use change can have a substantial impact on the GWP on a landscape long after the deforestation event. The conversion of rainforest to agricultural land resulted in as much as a 17 fold increase in GWP, from 251 kg CO2 eq. ha-1 yr-1 in the rainforest to 889 kg CO2 eq. ha-1 yr-1 in the pasture to 2538 kg CO2 eq. ha-1 yr-1 in the lychee plantation. This increase resulted from altered N cycling and a reduction in the aerobic capacity of the soil in the pasture and lychee systems, enhancing denitrification and nitrification events, and reducing atmospheric CH4 uptake in the soil. High infiltration, drainage and subsequent soil aeration under the rainforest limited N2O loss, as well as promoting CH4 uptake of 11.2 g CH4-C ha-1 day-1. This was among the highest reported for rainforest systems, indicating that aerated subtropical rainforests can act as substantial sink of CH4. Interannual climatic variation resulted in significantly higher N2O emission from the pasture during 2008 (5.7 g N2O-N ha day) compared to 2007 (3.9 g N2O-N ha day), despite receiving nearly 500 mm less rainfall. Nitrous oxide emissions from the pasture were highest during the summer months and were highly episodic, related more to the magnitude and distribution of rain events rather than soil moisture alone.
Mean N2O emissions from the lychee plantation increased from an average of 4.0 g N2O-N ha-1 day-1, to 19.8 g N2O-N ha-1 day-1 following a split application of N fertilizer (560 kg N ha-1, equivalent to 1 kg N tree-1). The timing of the split application was found to be critical to N2O emissions, with over twice as much lost following an application in spring (emission factor (EF): 1.79%) compared to autumn (EF: 0.91%). This was attributed to the hot and moist climatic conditions and a reduction in plant N uptake during the spring creating conditions conducive to N2O loss. These findings demonstrate that land use change in subtropical Australia can be a significant source of GHGs. Moreover, the study shows that modifying the timing of fertilizer application can be an efficient way of reducing GHG emissions from subtropical horticulture.

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ID Code: 39257
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Grace, Peter & Weier, Keith
Keywords: greenhouse gases, N2O, CO2, CH4, nitrogen, carbon, subtropical, pasture, lychee, orchard, rainforest, land use change, GWP
Divisions: Past > Schools > Biogeoscience
Past > QUT Faculties & Divisions > Faculty of Science and Technology
Past > Institutes > Institute for Sustainable Resources
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 17 Dec 2010 02:00
Last Modified: 28 Oct 2011 20:00

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