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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2005 Jan;71(1):240-6.

Quantification of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria and factors controlling nitrification in salt marsh sediments.

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  • 1Department of Oceanography, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL 32306-4320, USA.


To elucidate the geomicrobiological factors controlling nitrification in salt marsh sediments, a comprehensive approach involving sediment geochemistry, process rate measurements, and quantification of the genetic potential for nitrification was applied to three contrasting salt marsh habitats: areas colonized by the tall (TS) or short (SS) form of Spartina alterniflora and unvegetated creek banks (CBs). Nitrification and denitrification potential rates were strongly correlated with one another and with macrofaunal burrow abundance, indicating that coupled nitrification-denitrification was enhanced by macrofaunal burrowing activity. Ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) gene copy numbers were used to estimate the ammonia-oxidizing bacterial population size (5.6 x 10(4) to 1.3 x 10(6) g of wet sediment(-1)), which correlated with nitrification potentials and was 1 order of magnitude higher for TS and CB than for SS. TS and CB sediments also had higher Fe(III) content, higher Fe(III)-to-total reduced sulfur ratios, higher Fe(III) reduction rates, and lower dissolved sulfides than SS sediments. Iron(III) content and reduction rates were positively correlated with nitrification and denitrification potential and amoA gene copy number. Laboratory slurry incubations supported field data, confirming that increased amounts of Fe(III) relieved sulfide inhibition of nitrification. We propose that macrofaunal burrowing and high concentrations of Fe(III) stimulate nitrifying bacterial populations, and thus may increase nitrogen removal through coupled nitrification-denitrification in salt marsh sediments.

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