Seasonal Patterns in Microbial Community Composition in Denitrifying Bioreactors Treating Subsurface Agricultural Drainage


Denitrifying bioreactors, consisting of water flow control structures and a woodchip-filled trench, are a promising approach for removing nitrate from agricultural subsurface or tile drainage systems. To better understand the seasonal dynamics and the ecological drivers of the microbial communities responsible for denitrification in these bioreactors, we employed microbial community “fingerprinting” techniques in a time-series examination of three denitrifying bioreactors over 2 years, looking at bacteria, fungi, and the denitrifier functional group responsible for the final step of complete denitrification. Our analysis revealed that microbial community composition responds to depth and seasonal variation in moisture content and inundation of the bioreactor media, as well as temperature. Using a geostatistical analysis approach, we observed recurring temporal patterns in bacterial and denitrifying bacterial community composition in these bioreactors, consistent with annual cycling. The fungal communities were more stable, having longer temporal autocorrelations, and did not show significant annual cycling. These results suggest a recurring seasonal cycle in the denitrifying bioreactor microbial community, likely due to seasonal variation in moisture content.

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The authors are grateful for technical assistance provided by D. Kimme for analysis of nitrate concentrations in water and for assistance from A.L. Peralta and S.F. Paver in microbial ecology laboratory techniques. R.A.C. Cooke and S. Vermakindly provided bioreactor design information, as well as flow and performance data. Funding was provided by a US Department of Agriculture National Needs Fellowship to J.M.A. and by US National Science Foundation project CBET-0853820.

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Correspondence to Angela D. Kent.

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Porter, M.D., Andrus, J.M., Bartolerio, N.A. et al. Seasonal Patterns in Microbial Community Composition in Denitrifying Bioreactors Treating Subsurface Agricultural Drainage. Microb Ecol 70, 710–723 (2015).

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  • Denitrification
  • Geostatistics
  • Nitrate removal
  • Seasonal variation
  • Subsurface drainage