Links between ammonia oxidizer community structure, abundance, and nitrification potential in acidic soils

Huaiying Yao, Yangmei Gao, Graeme W Nicol, Colin D Campbell, James I Prosser, Limei Zhang, Wenyan Han, Brajesh K Singh
Applied and Environmental Microbiology 2011, 77 (13): 4618-25
Ammonia oxidation is the first and rate-limiting step of nitrification and is performed by both ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and bacteria (AOB). However, the environmental drivers controlling the abundance, composition, and activity of AOA and AOB communities are not well characterized, and the relative importance of these two groups in soil nitrification is still debated. Chinese tea orchard soils provide an excellent system for investigating the long-term effects of low pH and nitrogen fertilization strategies. AOA and AOB abundance and community composition were therefore investigated in tea soils and adjacent pine forest soils, using quantitative PCR (qPCR), terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) and sequence analysis of respective ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) genes. There was strong evidence that soil pH was an important factor controlling AOB but not AOA abundance, and the ratio of AOA to AOB amoA gene abundance increased with decreasing soil pH in the tea orchard soils. In contrast, T-RFLP analysis suggested that soil pH was a key explanatory variable for both AOA and AOB community structure, but a significant relationship between community abundance and nitrification potential was observed only for AOA. High potential nitrification rates indicated that nitrification was mainly driven by AOA in these acidic soils. Dominant AOA amoA sequences in the highly acidic tea soils were all placed within a specific clade, and one AOA genotype appears to be well adapted to growth in highly acidic soils. Specific AOA and AOB populations dominated in soils at particular pH values and N content, suggesting adaptation to specific niches.

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