Abundance of ammonia oxidizing microbes and denitrifiers in different soil horizons of an agricultural soil in relation to the cultivated crops


The role of subsoils and their microbial communities for the nutrient supply for plants is to a large extent unknown, especially in comparison to well investigated topsoil layers. Therefore, in this study, the influence of three different plant species with different rooting systems and different N uptake strategies on ammonium and nitrate levels and microbial communities involved in ammonia oxidation and denitrification was investigated in different soil horizons. Overall, our results show a higher genetic potential for both processes in topsoils than in subsoils independent of the present plant. Although we found accumulation of N in top and subsoils in plots with legumes, we could not observe an impact of the higher nitrate content on the genetic potential of denitrification and ammonia oxidation. However, differences in the ratios of ammonia oxidizing archaea to bacteria and also between denitrifying bacteria harboring genes for copper- (nirK) or cytochrome- (nirS) dependent nitrite reductase in top and subsoil samples reveal different ecophysiologies of microbes involved in N turnover in top and subsoil habitats.

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Funding by German Research Foundation within the Research Unit 1320 is gratefully acknowledged. We would like to thank Gudrun Hufnagel, Katja Öhler, Dominik Dannenbauer, and Ganna Neskovic-Prit for their support in the laboratory.

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Correspondence to Michael Schloter.

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Fischer, D., Uksa, M., Tischler, W. et al. Abundance of ammonia oxidizing microbes and denitrifiers in different soil horizons of an agricultural soil in relation to the cultivated crops. Biol Fertil Soils 49, 1243–1246 (2013). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00374-013-0812-8

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  • Nitrite reduction
  • N2O reduction
  • Ammonia oxidation
  • Microbial community
  • Arable soil
  • Subsoil
  • Root morphology