Kudzu (Pueraria montana) invasion doubles emissions of nitric oxide and increases ozone pollution

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Department of Geological and Mining Engineering and Sciences; Department of Civil, Environmental, and Geospatial Engineering


The nitrogen-fixing legume kudzu (Pueraria montana) is a widespread invasive plant in the southeastern United States with physiological traits that may lead to important impacts on ecosystems and the atmosphere. Its spread has the potential to raise ozone levels in the region by increasing nitric oxide (NO) emissions from soils as a consequence of increasing nitrogen (N) inputs and cycling in soils. We studied the effects of kudzu invasions on soils and trace N gas emissions at three sites in Madison County, Georgia in 2007 and used the results to model the effects of kudzu invasion on regional air quality. We found that rates of net N mineralization increased by up to 1,000%, and net nitrification increased by up to 500% in invaded soils in Georgia. Nitric oxide emissions from invaded soils were more than 100% higher (2.81 vs. 1.24 ng NO-N cm-2 h-1). We used the GEOS-Chem chemical transport model to evaluate the potential impact of kudzu invasion on regional atmospheric chemistry and air quality. In an extreme scenario, extensive kudzu invasion leads directly to an increase in the number of high ozone events (above 70 ppb) of up to 7 days each summer in some areas, up from 10 to 20 days in a control scenario with no kudzu invasion. These results establish a quantitative link between a biological invasion and ozone formation and suggest that in this extreme scenario, kudzu invasion can overcome some of the air quality benefits of legislative control.

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Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America