Temporal and spatial distributions of ammonia-oxidizing archaea and bacteria and their ratio as an indicator of oligotrophic conditions in natural wetlands

Atreyee Sims, John Horton, Shashikanth Gajaraj, Steve McIntosh, Randall J Miles, Ryan Mueller, Robert Reed, Zhiqiang Hu
Water Research 2012 September 1, 46 (13): 4121-9
Ammonia-oxidizing organisms play an important role in wetland water purification and nitrogen cycling. We determined soil nitrification rates and investigated the seasonal and spatial distributions of ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) in three freshwater wetlands by using specific primers targeting the amoA genes of AOA and AOB and real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR). The nitrifying potentials of wetland soils ranged from 1.4 to 4.0 μg g(-1) day(-1). The specific rates of ammonia oxidation activity by AOA and AOB at the Bee Hollow wetlands were 1.9 fmol NH(3) cell(-1) day(-1) and 36.8 fmol NH(3) cell(-1) day(-1), respectively. Soil nitrification potential was positively correlated with both archaeal and bacterial amoA abundance. However, the gene copies of AOA amoA were higher than those of AOB amoA by at least an order of magnitude in wetland soils and water in both summer and winter over a three year study period. AOB were more sensitive to low temperature than AOA. The amoA gene copy ratios of AOA to AOB in top soils (0-10 cm) ranged from 19 ± 4 to 100 ± 11 among the wetland sites. In contrast, the ratio of the wetland boundary soil was 10 ± 2, which was significantly lower than that of the wetland soils (P < 0.001). The NH(4)(+)-N concentrations in wetland water were lower than 2 mg/L throughout the study. The results suggest that ammonium concentration is a major factor influencing AOA and AOB population in wetlands, although other factors such as temperature, dissolved oxygen, and soil organic matter are involved. AOA are more persistent and more abundant than AOB in the nutrient-depleted oligotrophic wetlands. Therefore, ratio of AOA amoA gene copies to AOB amoA gene copies may serve as a new biological indicator for wetland condition assessment and wetland restoration applications.

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