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ISME J. 2009 May;3(5):597-605. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2008.128. Epub 2009 Jan 15.

Relationship between N-cycling communities and ecosystem functioning in a 50-year-old fertilization experiment.

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Department of Microbiology, Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Uppsala, Sweden.


The relative importance of size and composition of microbial communities in ecosystem functioning is poorly understood. Here, we investigated how community composition and size of selected functional guilds in the nitrogen cycle correlated with agroecosystem functioning, which was defined as microbial process rates, total crop yield and nitrogen content in the crop. Soil was sampled from a 50-year fertilizer trial and the treatments comprised unfertilized bare fallow, unfertilized with crop, and plots with crop fertilized with calcium nitrate, ammonium sulfate, solid cattle manure or sewage sludge. The size of the functional guilds and the total bacterial community were greatly affected by the fertilization regimes, especially by the sewage sludge and ammonium sulfate treatments. The community size results were combined with previously published data on the composition of the corresponding communities, potential ammonia oxidation, denitrification, basal and substrate-induced respiration rates, in addition to crop yield for an integrated analysis. It was found that differences in size, rather than composition, correlated with differences in process rates for the denitrifier and ammonia-oxidizing archaeal and total bacterial communities, whereas neither differences in size nor composition was correlated with differences in process rates for the ammonia-oxidizing bacterial community. In contrast, the composition of nitrate-reducing, denitrifying and total bacterial communities co-varied with primary production and both were strongly linked to soil properties.

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