, Volume 34, Issue 2, pp 155-165

Influence of Protozoa and Nutrient Availability on Nitrification Rates in Subsurface Sediments

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Abstract

Protozoan abundance, nitrification potential, and related factors in saturated subsurface sediments and the overlying soil were compared at a nonfertilized grassland and an agricultural cropland site. In a 6-week laboratory experiment, DOC, ammonium, and protozoan abundance were manipulated in flasks containing groundwater-sediment slurries. Microbial abundance (protozoa, actively respiring bacteria, and total bacteria) and nutrient concentrations (extractable ammonium and nitrate) were measured.

Results from the soil profile analysis showed that protozoan abundance declined with depth at both sites, but significant numbers (392 cells g−1dw) were found in groundwater sediments at the cropland site. Nitrification potential declined with depth at the grassland site and increased with depth at the cropland site. In the laboratory experiment, treatment responses generally were observed within 3 weeks, but had diminished by 6 weeks. Protozoa reduced bacterial populations through the first 3 weeks, but this effect was not significant by week 6. In the cropland sediments, increased net nitrate production occurred in the two reduced protozoa treatments that received ammonium, suggesting that nitrification was occurring and was limited by ammonium. High protozoan abundance in the cropland sediments increased the nitrate flux response, unless DOC was added; in this case, no response occurred. No such responses were recorded in the grassland sediments.

Apparently, appreciable nitrification can occur in some groundwater sediments, if sufficient ammonium is present and DOC availability is low. Furthermore, nitrification can be enhanced when protozoan abundance is elevated. Finally, our results suggest that surface land use practices can alter subsurface nitrification rates and microbial community structure.

Received: 12 July 1996; Accepted: 2 December 1996