Measuring methane emissions from American bison (Bison bison L.) using eddy covariance

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Montana State University - Bozeman, College of Agriculture


American bison (Bison bison L.) have recovered from the brink of extinction over the past century. Bison offer potential environmental benefits as they re-occupy their native range, but many specific impacts of bison reintroduction are not well understood. Methane emissions are known to be a major climate impact of ruminants, but few measurements for bison exist due to challenges caused by their mobile grazing habits and safety issues associated with direct measurements. Here, we measure the methane and carbon dioxide fluxes from a bison herd on winter range using the eddy covariance technique. Methane emissions were negligible (mean = 0.0024 micromole m -2 s -1, SD = 0.0102 micromole m -2 s -1) before and after bison grazed in the area sampled by the eddy covariance flux footprint with the exception of a single spike possibly attributable to thawing soil or the presence of white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus Z.). Methane fluxes when bison were present in the study area averaged 0.041 micromole m -2 s -1 (SD = 0.046 micromole m -2 s -1), similar to previous measurements over sheep and cattle pastures, but with little diurnal pattern due to a lack of consistent bison movement habits over the course of each day. An eddy covariance flux footprint analysis coupled to bison location estimates from automated camera images calculated methane flux with a median of 56.5 micromole s -1 per animal and a mean of 91.6 micromole s-1 per animal, approximately 50 and 75% of established emission rates for range cattle, respectively. Eddy covariance measurements are a promising way to measure methane and carbon dioxide flux from large ruminants on native range and we recommend comparisons amongst alternate grazing systems to help identify management strategies that are cognizant of climate.




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