Plant and Soil

, Volume 199, Issue 1, pp 123–130

A Most Probable Number method (MPN) for the estimation of cell numbers of heterotrophic nitrifying bacteria in soil

  • H. Papen
  • R. von Berg

DOI: 10.1023/A:1004243810473

Cite this article as:
Papen, H. & von Berg, R. Plant and Soil (1998) 199: 123. doi:10.1023/A:1004243810473


A Most Probable Number (MPN) method was developed allowing for the first time estimation of populations of bacteria capable of heterotrophic nitrification. The method was applied to an acidic soil of a coniferous forest exhibiting nitrate production. In this soil nitrate production was unlikely to be catalyzed by autotrophic nitrifiers, since autotrophic ammonia oxidizers never could be detected, and autotrophic nitrite oxidizers were usually not found in appreciable cell numbers. The developed MPN method is based on the demonstration of the presence/absence of nitrite/nitrate produced by heterotrophic nitrifying bacteria during growth in a complex medium (peptone-meat-extract softagar medium) containing low concentrations of agar (0.1%). Both the supply of the growing cultures in MPN test tubes with sufficient oxygen and the presence of low agar concentrations in the medium were found to be favourable for sustainable nitrite/nitrate production. The results demonstrate that in the acidic forest soil the microbial population capable of heterotrophic nitrifcation represents a significant part of the total aerobic heterotrophic population. By applying the developed MPN method, several bacterial strains of different genera not previously described to perform heterotrophic nitrification have been isolated from the soil and have been identified by bacterio-diagnostic tests.

autotrophic nitrificationheterotrophic nitrifying bacterianitrification in acid forest soils

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1998

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. Papen
    • 1
  • R. von Berg
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Soil MicrobiologyFraunhofer Institute for Atmospheric Environmental ResearchGarmisch-PartenkirchenGermany