CAS Key Laboratory of Forest Ecology and Management, Institute of Applied Ecology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, Shenyang, 110016, China; School of Geographical Sciences, Northeast Normal University, Changchun, 130024, China. Electronic address: [Email]
Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and is involved in the destruction of ozone layer. However, the underlying mechanisms of the high soil N2O emission during the freeze-thaw (FT) period are still unclear. Here, we conducted a mesocosm study with high frequency in situ measurements to explore the responses of soil microbes to the FT cycles and their influences on soil N2O emission. We found the high N2O emission rate during the FT period was mainly due to the release of substrates, the maintenance of high enzyme activities at the freezing stage, and the fast recovery of microbial biomass nitrogen (MBN) and high microbial activities at the thawing stage. Physical isolation of previously produced N2O was an important mechanism for the higher N2O flux at the thawing stage. With increasing numbers of the FT cycles, MBN at the thawing stage remained stable and potential dehydrogenase activities at the thawing stage also remained stable after the first eight FT cycles and only declined during the last two cycles, suggesting the sustainability of the biological mechanisms. Our study suggests that although MBN declined, microbial enzymes could maintain high activities at a few degrees Celsius below zero in this temperate forest soil and produce high N2O fluxes even at the freezing stage, which were trapped under the ice layer and released at the thawing stage, resulting in high soil N2O emission during the FT period.