Research Article

Plant and Soil

, Volume 170, Issue 2, pp 241-250

First online:

Competition for ammonium between plant roots and nitrifying and heterotrophic bacteria and the effects of protozoan grazing

  • F. J. M. VerhagenAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Microorganism Interactions, Centre for Terrestrial Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology
  • , H. J. LaanbroekAffiliated withDepartment of Microbial Ecology Centre for Limnology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology
  • , J. W. WoldendropAffiliated withDepartment of Plant Microorganism Interactions, Centre for Terrestrial Ecology, Netherlands Institute of Ecology

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Abstract

The competition for limiting amounts of ammonium between the chemolithotrophic ammonium-oxidizing species Nitrosomonas europaea, the heterotrophic species Arthrobacter globiformis and roots of Plantago lanceolata (Ribwort plantain) was studied in a series of model systems of increasing complexity, i.e. energy-limited continuous cultures, non-water-saturated continuously percolated soil columns and pots with γ-sterilized soil planted with axetic P. lanceolata seedlings. The effects of bacterial grazing by the flagellate species Adriamonas peritocrescens on the competition for ammonium were also investigated in the three model systems.

It was found that N. europaea was a weaker competitor for ammonium than either A. globiformis or plant roots of P. lanceolata. It is assumed that the heterotrophic bacteria have a higher affinity for ammonium than the nitrifying bacteria, whereas growing plant roots have a greater capacity to exploit the soil for ammonium than the immobile nitrifying bacteria. It is not very likely that allelochemicals were involved in suppressing the nitrification process. Four reasons are given for this assumption.

Presence of the flagellates strongly stimulated the potential nitrification rate in all model systems. It is assumed that there is a more even distribution over the soil of either nitrifying bacteria or their substrate ammonium in the presence of flagellates. In addition to the distribution effect, there is a stimulation of the potential ammonium oxidation rate. The results are discussed in the light of the function of nitrate as nitrogen sink in the biogeochemical nitrogen cycle.

Key words

competition for ammonium model systems nitrification N-immobilization N-uptake by plant roots protozoan grazing