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How climate and soil properties affect the abundances of nitrogen-cycling genes in nitrogen-treated ecosystems: a meta-analysis



The abundance of nitrogen (N)-cycling genes is frequently used to indicate N cycling and predict N2O emissions. However, it remains difficult to clearly define how soil N-cycling genes in different ecosystems respond to anthropogenic N additions.


We applied a meta-analysis approach to examine data about N-cycling genes (nifH, ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA), ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB), nirK, nirS, and nosZ) in different ecosystems from 119 peer-reviewed articles.


In the ecosystems examined, the patterns of change in the abundances of the target genes, apart from AOA, varied considerably. This variation reflects the distinctive soil characteristics of ecosystems that develop when different forms of N are applied at different rates and over different durations. The nifH abundance decreased significantly, by 32.79%, in forests but did not change in grasslands and croplands. The AOB abundance increased in all three ecosystems, by 193.06% in grasslands, 73.26% in forests, and 151.86% in croplands, respectively. The denitrification gene abundances, namely the nirK, nirS, and nosZ, in croplands also increased significantly, by 60.74%, 47.42%, and 69.54%, respectively.


In general, climate factors and long-term applications of organic N at high rates had significant effects on the gene abundances in different ecosystems, through their influence on soil properties. An enhanced understanding of how N additions influence the abundance of other N-cycling functional genes can help us improve our ability to model the populations and activities of microbial functional communities and predict N fluxes.

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All the data presented in this manuscript are available in the supporting information.


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We would like to thank the reviewers and editor for proofreading and providing helpful suggestions on the manuscript. Sincere appreciation to the scientists whose research studies were included in this meta-analysis. This study was supported by the Second Tibetan Plateau Scientific Expedition and Research Program (STEP) [Grant No. 2019QZKK0608] and the National Natural Science Foundation of China [Grant No. 31770519].

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All the authors contributed to the study conception and design. Yinghui Liu and Jingyi Dong conceived the ideas and designed the methodology; Jingyi Dong, Jiaqi Zhang, and Haichao Jing collected the data; Jingyi Dong and Jiaqi Zhang analysed the data, and Jingyi Dong wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Yinghui Liu.

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Dong, J., Zhang, J., Liu, Y. et al. How climate and soil properties affect the abundances of nitrogen-cycling genes in nitrogen-treated ecosystems: a meta-analysis. Plant Soil (2022).

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  • Cropland
  • Forest
  • Grassland
  • Meta-analysis
  • Nitrogen addition
  • Nitrogen-cycling functional gene