Variations and controlling factors of soil denitrification rate

Zhaolei Li, Ze Tang, Zhaopeng Song, Weinan Chen, Dashuan Tian, Shiming Tang, Xiaoyue Wang, Jinsong Wang, Wenjie Liu, Yi Wang, Jie Li, Lifen Jiang, Yiqi Luo, Shuli Niu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

51 Scopus citations


The denitrification process profoundly affects soil nitrogen (N) availability and generates its byproduct, nitrous oxide, as a potent greenhouse gas. There are large uncertainties in predicting global denitrification because its controlling factors remain elusive. In this study, we compiled 4301 observations of denitrification rates across a variety of terrestrial ecosystems from 214 papers published in the literature. The averaged denitrification rate was 3516.3 ± 91.1 µg N kg−1 soil day−1. The highest denitrification rate was 4242.3 ± 152.3 µg N kg−1 soil day−1 under humid subtropical climates, and the lowest was 965.8 ± 150.4 µg N kg−1 under dry climates. The denitrification rate increased with temperature, precipitation, soil carbon and N contents, as well as microbial biomass carbon and N, but decreased with soil clay contents. The variables related to soil N contents (e.g., nitrate, ammonium, and total N) explained the variation of denitrification more than climatic and edaphic variables (e.g., mean annual temperature (MAT), soil moisture, soil pH, and clay content) according to structural equation models. Soil microbial biomass carbon, which was influenced by soil nitrate, ammonium, and total N, also strongly influenced denitrification at a global scale. Collectively, soil N contents, microbial biomass, pH, texture, moisture, and MAT accounted for 60% of the variation in global denitrification rates. The findings suggest that soil N contents and microbial biomass are strong predictors of denitrification at the global scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2133-2145
Number of pages13
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • fertilization
  • global warming
  • microbes
  • nitrogen cycling
  • soil denitrification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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