Nitrous oxide (N2O) is an important greenhouse gas and an oxidant respired by a
diverse range of anaerobic microbes, but its sources and sinks are poorly understood. The overarching goal of my dissertation is to explore abiotic N2O formation and microbial N2O consumption across reducing environments of the early and modern Earth. By combining experiments as well as diffusion and atmospheric modeling, I present evidence that N2O production can be catalyzed on iron mineral surfaces that may have been present in shallow waters of the Archean ocean. Using photochemical models, I showed that tropospheric N2O concentrations close to modern ones (ppb range) were possible before O2 accumulated. In peatlands of the Amazon basin (modern Earth), unexpected abiotic activity became apparent under anoxic conditions. However, care has to be taken to adequately disentangle abiotic from biotic reactions. I identified significant sterilant-induced changes in Fe2+ and dissolved organic matter pools (determined by fluorescence spectroscopy). Among all chemical and physical sterilants tested, γ - irradiation showed the least effect on reactant pools. Targeting geochemically diverse peatlands across Central and South America, I present evidence that coupled abiotic and biotic cycling of N2O could be a widespread phenomenon. Using isotopic tracers in the field, I showed that abiotic N2O fluxes rival biotic ones under in-situ conditions. Moreover, once N2O is produced, it is rapidly consumed by N2O-reducing microbes. Using amplicon sequencing and metagenomics, I demonstrated that this surprising N2O sink potential is associated with diverse bacteria, including the recently discovered clade II that is present in high proportions at Amazonian sites based on nosZ quantities. Finally, to evaluate the impact of nitrogen oxides on methane production in peatlands, I characterized soil nitrite (NO2–) and N2O abundances along soil profiles. I complemented field analyses with molecular work by deploying amplicon-based 16S rRNA and mcrA sequencing. The diversity and activity of soil methanogens was affected by the presence of NO2– and N2O, suggesting that methane emissions could be influenced by N2O cycling dynamics. Overall, my work proposes a key role for N2O in Earth systems across time and a central position in tropical microbial ecosystems.