Farmers can reduce greenhouse gas production through soil management, according to research published jointly by Teagasc and Scotland’s Rural College.
The research shows how effectively a newly- discovered group of soil microbes breaks down nitrous oxide, a major contributor to global warming and a gas blamed for depleting the ozone layer. It suggests that if their growth can be encouraged, soils could make a greater contribution to addressing climate change.
The college’s soil ecologist, Professor Bryan Griffiths, said: “Compared with what we know about carbon dioxide and methane, we don’t understand enough how different soil microorganisms create nitrous oxide or break it down.
“This work gives us greater knowledge about the bugs which reduce harmful nitrous oxide to useful nitrogen and oxygen.
“We have also discovered that the effect of this denitrification does not depend on one simple soil factor like drainage or pH but relies on the abundance of these microbes. The next step will be to look at the factors that control their abundance and activity.”
The research, published in the journal Nature Climate Change, was led by the INRA agro-ecology centre in France. The consortium involved scientists from Teagasc, the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and from Scotland, the James Hutton Institute and the college.
There are literally billions of different microorganisms in soils. Instead of looking for particular individual species, the researchers used DNA analysis to look for genes linked to denitrification.
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