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Microb Ecol. 2011 Feb;61(2):386-98. doi: 10.1007/s00248-010-9757-8. Epub 2010 Oct 21.

Responses of salt marsh plant rhizosphere diazotroph assemblages to changes in marsh elevation, edaphic conditions and plant host species.

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Department of Biological Sciences, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC 29208, USA.


An important source of new nitrogen in salt marsh ecosystems is microbial diazotrophy (nitrogen fixation). The diazotroph assemblages associated with the rhizospheres (sediment directly affected by the roots) of salt marsh plants are highly diverse, somewhat stable, and consist mainly of novel organisms. In Crab Haul Creek Basin, North Inlet, SC, the distribution of plant types into discrete zones is dictated by relatively minor differences in marsh elevation and it was hypothesized that the biotic and abiotic properties of the plant zones would also dictate the composition of the rhizosphere diazotroph assemblages. Over a period of 1 year, rhizosphere sediments were collected from monotypic stands of the black needlerush, Juncus roemerianus, the common pickleweed, Salicornia virginica, the short and tall growth forms of the smooth cordgrass Spartina alterniflora, and a mixed zone of co-occurring S. virginica and short form, S. alterniflora. DNA was extracted, purified and nifH sequences PCR amplified for denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) analysis to determine the composition of the diazotroph assemblages. The diazotroph assemblages were strongly influenced by season, abiotic environmental parameters and plant host. Sediment chemistry and nitrogen fixation activity were also significantly influenced by seasonal changes. DGGE bands that significantly affected seasonal and zone specific clustering were identified and most of these sequences were from novel diazotrophs, unaffiliated with any previously described organisms. At least one third of the recovered nifH sequences were from a diverse assemblage of Chlorobia, and γ-, α-, β- and δ-Proteobacteria. Diazotrophs that occurred throughout the growing season and among all zones (frequently detected) were also mostly novel. These significant sequences indicated that diazotrophs driving the structure of the assemblages were diverse, versatile, and some were ubiquitous while others were seasonally responsive. Several ubiquitous sequences were closely related to sequences of actively N(2) fixing diazotrophs previously recovered from this system. These sequences from ubiquitous and versatile organisms likely indicate the diazotrophs in these rhizosphere assemblages that significantly contribute to ecosystem function.

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