High nitrogen (N) fertiliser inputs in intensive sugarcane systems drive productivity but also significant emissions of nitrous oxide (N2O), a potent greenhouse gas. Fertiliser and soil N availability for both plant N uptake and N2O emissions across different N rates remain unknown, hindering efficient N management. This study investigated the contribution of fertiliser and soil N and their interaction to plant N uptake and N2O emissions in two intensively managed tropical sugarcane systems.
High temporal resolution N2O measurements were combined with 15N recoveries across four N fertiliser rates, (100, 150, 200 and 250 kg N ha− 1) in soil, plant and N2O emissions.
Cumulative N2O emissions ranged from 0.3 to 4.1 kg N ha− 1, corresponding to emission factors ranging from 0.7 to 2.4%. Native soil N accounted for > 60% of cumulative N2O emissions and total plant N uptake. Fertiliser N addition increased N2O emissions from native soil N compared to the unfertilised control, highlighting the interaction between fertiliser and soil N, which determined the overall magnitude but also the response of total N2O emissions to N rates dependent on the site conditions. Overall fertiliser 15N loss responded exponentially to N rates with 50% of applied N fertiliser permanently lost even at the recommended N rate.
The interaction between fertiliser and soil N and its contribution to N uptake and N2O emissions demonstrate the importance of integrating soil fertility management with N fertiliser rate recommendations for sugarcane systems to maintain crop productivity and reduce environmental impacts.