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  1. Abstract

    Fertilized temperate croplands export large amounts of reactive nitrogen (N), which degrades water and air quality and contributes to climate change. Fertilizer use is poised to increase in the tropics, where widespread food insecurity persists and increased agricultural productivity will be needed, but much less is known about the potential consequences of increased tropical N fertilizer application. We conducted a meta‐analysis of tropical field studies of nitrate leaching, nitrous oxide emissions, nitric oxide emissions, and ammonia volatilization totaling more than 1,000 observations. We found that the relationship between N inputs and losses differed little between temperate and tropical croplands, although total nitric oxide losses were higher in the tropics. Among the potential drivers we studied, the N input rate controlled all N losses, but soil texture and water inputs also controlled hydrological N losses. Irrigated systems had significantly higher losses of ammonia, and pasture agroecosystems had higher nitric oxide losses. Tripling of fertilizer N inputs to tropical croplands from 50 to 150 kg N ha−1 year−1would have substantial environmental implications and would lead to increases in nitrate leaching (+30%), nitrous oxide emissions (+30%), nitric oxide (+66%) emissions, and ammonia volatilization (+74%), bringing tropical agricultural nitrate, nitrous oxide, and ammonia losses in line with temperate losses and raising nitric oxide losses above them.

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