Authored by: Jean-Claude Germon , Laurent Philippot

Handbook of Soil Sciences Properties and Processes

Print publication date:  November  2011
Online publication date:  November  2011

Print ISBN: 9781439803059
eBook ISBN: 9781439803066
Adobe ISBN:


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The considerable increase in nitrogen fertilization in the second half of the twentieth century and the damage caused by the acceleration of the nitrogen cycle in the disturbed environment raised interest in the fate of nitrogen in soils, in particular gaseous losses and denitrification (Galloway et al., 2008). Denitrification, which was first described by Gayon and Dupetit (1882), is a microbial respiratory process consisting in the sequential reduction of nitrate (NO3 ) or nitrite (NO2 ) to nitric oxide (NO), nitrous oxide (N2O), or nitrogen gas (N2). These nitrogen oxides are used as alternative electron acceptors when oxygen for generating a transmembrane proton electrochemical potential across the cytoplasmic membrane is limited. As a consequence, denitrification occurs in soils when nitrate or nitrite is available as a substrate and when there is little or no oxygen. Denitrification also tends to concentrate around hot spots of organic matter (Parkin, 1987), since the most common energy sources for denitrifying bacteria are organic compounds. Denitrification exhibits both a high temporal variability, generally associated with rain events, and a high spatial variability with variations by orders of magnitude even within small areas (Folorunso and Rolston, 1984).

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