Soil pH and plant diversity drive co-occurrence patterns of ammonia and nitrite oxidizer in soils from forest ecosystems
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In this study, we investigated how co-occurrence patters of ammonia and nitrite oxidizers, which drive autotrophic nitrification, are influenced by tree species composition as well as soil pH in different forest soils. We expected that a decline of ammonia oxidizers in coniferous forests, as a result of excreted nitrification inhibitors and at acidic sites with low availability of ammonia, would reduce the abundance of nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB). To detect shifts in co-occurrence patterns, the abundance of key players was measured at 50 forest plots with coniferous respectively deciduous vegetation and different soil pH levels in the region Schwäbische Alb (Germany). We found ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and Nitrospira-like NOB (NS) to be dominating in numbers over their counterparts across all forest types. AOA co-occurred mostly with NS, while bacterial ammonia oxidizers (AOB) were correlated with Nitrobacter-like NOB (NB). Co-occurrence patterns changed from tight significant relationships of all ammonia and nitrite oxidizers in deciduous forests to a significant relationship of AOB and NB in coniferous forests, where AOA abundance was reduced. Surprisingly, no co-occurrence structures between ammonia and nitrite oxidizers could be determined at acidic sites, although abundances were correlated to the respective nitrogen pools. This raises the question whether interactions with heterotrophic nitrifiers may occur, which needs to be addressed in future studies.