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Nitric oxide (NO) is a relatively short-lived trace gas that reacts with oxygen in the troposphere to produce the air pollutant ozone. It also reacts with water vapor to form nitric and nitrous acids, which acidify precipitation and increase N deposition. Models currently used to predict soil NO fluxes are based on the assumption that NO flux is proportional to the gross rate of nitrification or N mineralization; however, this assumption has not been tested because of the difficulty in measuring gross N-cycling rates in situ. We measured soil NO fluxes, gross and net N-cycling rates, and a variety of other soil characteristics in the forest floor and intact soil cores at nine undisturbed forest and rangeland ecosystems of New Mexico, Utah, and Oregon, USA, to determine which soil variables were most closely related to soil NO flux. Soil NO fluxes ranged from a low of 0.02 ng N·m22·s21, prior to wetting in a western hemlock–sitka spruce forest on the Oregon coast, to a high of 6.74 ng N·m22·s21, one hour after soil wetting in a juniper woodland of central Oregon. In contrast to our expectations, neither gross nitrification nor gross mineralization was correlated with soil NO flux. Fluxes were positively correlated with net rates of mineralization and nitrification, soil NO3 2 concentrations, bulk density, and pH, and negatively correlated with gross rates of NO3 2 consumption in the forest floor, soil organic carbon (SOC), soil C:N, and soil water content. Principal-component analysis showed that NO flux after water addition (2 cm of water) had a strong negative correlation with microbial demand for N (as indicated by net mineralization, net nitrification, SOC, and C:N). Our results suggest that, even in well-drained soils, NO efflux is limited more by NO consumption than by NO production. As a result, models utilizing the more easily measured net rates, rather than gross rates, may be better predictors of soil NO fluxes across a range of ecosystems.

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