|dc.description.abstract||New Zealand’s 5.3 million strong dairy herd returns approximately 106 million litres of urine to pasture soils daily. The urea in that urine is rapidly hydrolysed to ammonium (NH₄⁺), which is then nitrified, with denitrification of nitrate (NO₃⁻) ensuing. Nitrous oxide (N₂O), a potent greenhouse gas (GHG), is produced via nitrification and denitrification, which are enzyme-catalysed processes mediated by soil microbes. Thus microbes are linked intrinsically to urine patch chemistry. However, few previous studies have investigated microbial dynamics in urine patches. Therefore the objective of these four experiments was to investigate the effects on soil microbial communities of cow urine deposition. Methods used included phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analyses of microbial community structure and microbial stress, dehydrogenase activity (DHA) assays measuring microbial activity, and headspace gas sampling of N₂O, ammonia (NH₃) and carbon dioxide (CO₂) fluxes.
Experiment 1, a laboratory study, examined the influence of soil moisture and urinary salt content on the microbial community. Both urine application and high soil moisture increased microbial stress, as evidenced by significant changes in PLFA trans/cis and iso/anteiso ratios. Total PLFAs and DHA showed a short-term (< 1 week) stimulatory effect on microbes after urine application. Mean cumulative N₂O-N fluxes were 2.75% and 0.05% of the nitrogen (N) applied, from the wet (70% WFPS) and dry (35% WFPS) soils, respectively.
Experiment 2, a field trial, investigated nutrient dynamics and microbial stress with plants present. Concentrations of the micronutrients, copper, iron and molybdenum, increased up to 20-fold after urine application, while soil phosphorus (P) concentrations decreased from 0.87 mg kg ⁻¹ to 0.48 mg kg⁻¹. Plant P was also lower in urine patches, but total PLFAs were higher, suggesting that microbes had utilised the available nutrients. Microbial stress again resulted from urine application but, in contrast to experiment 1, the fungal biomass recovered after its initial inhibition.
Studies published during the course of this thesis reported that hippuric acid (HA) and its hydrolysis product benzoic acid (BA) significantly reduced N₂O-N emissions from synthetic cow urine, thus experiment 3 investigated this effect using real cow urine. Cumulative N₂O-N fluxes were 16.8, 5.9 and 4.7% of N applied for urine (U) alone, U+HA and U+BA, respectively. Since NH₃-N volatilisation remained unchanged, net gaseous N emissions were reduced. Trends in total PLFAs and microbial stress were comparable to experiment 1 results.
Experiment 4 studied HA effects at different temperatures and found no inhibition of N₂O-N fluxes from HA-amended urine. However, mean cumulative N₂O-N fluxes were reduced from 7.6% of N applied at 15–20°C to 0.2% at 5–10°C. Total cumulative N emissions (N₂O-N + NH₃-N) were highest at 20°C (17.5% of N applied) and lowest at 10°C (9.8% of N applied). Microbial activity, measured as potential DHA, increased with increasing temperature.
This work has clearly shown that the stimulation and inhibition of the soil microbial community by urine application are closely linked to soil chemistry and have significant impacts not only on soil nutrient dynamics but also on N₂O-N emissions and their possible mitigation.||en