Soil N2O emissions as affected by long-term residue removal and no-till practices in continuous corn

Mingwei Yuan, Kristin D. Greer, Emerson D. Nafziger, Maria B. Villamil, Cameron M. Pittelkow

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The environmental consequences of residue removal practices to support cellulosic biofuel production remain poorly understood. In the U.S. Midwest, corn (Zea mays L.) stover removal combined with no-till practices may increase or decrease soil N2O emissions by influencing soil moisture, temperature, and nutrient dynamics, yet empirical evidence from long-term field experiments is inconsistent. We investigated the effects of residue management (residue retained or removed) and tillage (chisel-till or no-till) on cumulative soil nitrous oxide (N2O) emissions, grain yield, and yield-scaled N2O emissions in a 3-year study initiated 10 years after treatment implementation in a long-term, continuous corn experiment in Illinois, United States. Crop yields were affected by treatment in only one of three study years, with the combination of residue removal and no-till reducing yields compared to both chisel-till treatments. Cumulative N2O emissions, soil inorganic N concentrations, and yield-scaled N2O emissions differed over the 3-year period and were significantly affected by tillage, with no response to residue management. In 2 years, no-till decreased cumulative N2O emissions and yield-scaled N2O emissions by an average of 64% and 60%, respectively. Correlations between daily N2O fluxes and soil moisture, temperature, and inorganic N concentrations suggested that the relative importance of these variables changed depending on year and treatment. While more research across a range of sites and management practices is needed, our findings support previous studies which have challenged IPCC methodology assumptions regarding the effects of residue removal on N2O emissions. We conclude there is inherent difficulty in predicting the impacts of residue removal due to the complexity of soil processes underlying N2O emissions coupled with inter-annual weather variability in this rainfed continuous corn system. Future efforts to evaluate the net greenhouse gas emissions of cellulosic biofuel production may benefit from accounting for this uncertainty.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)972-985
Number of pages14
JournalGCB Bioenergy
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 2018


  • Nitrous oxide
  • corn stover
  • no-till
  • residue removal
  • tillage
  • yield-scaled NO emissions

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Forestry
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Agronomy and Crop Science
  • Waste Management and Disposal


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