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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Jan;77(1):269-80. doi: 10.1128/AEM.01318-10. Epub 2010 Nov 5.

Spatial variability in nitrification rates and ammonia-oxidizing microbial communities in the agriculturally impacted Elkhorn Slough estuary, California.

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Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138, USA.


Ammonia oxidation-the microbial oxidation of ammonia to nitrite and the first step in nitrification-plays a central role in nitrogen cycling in coastal and estuarine systems. Nevertheless, questions remain regarding the connection between this biogeochemical process and the diversity and abundance of the mediating microbial community. In this study, we measured nutrient fluxes and rates of sediment nitrification in conjunction with the diversity and abundance of ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and ammonia-oxidizing betaproteobacteria (β-AOB). Sediments were examined from four sites in Elkhorn Slough, a small agriculturally impacted coastal California estuary that opens into Monterey Bay. Using an intact sediment core flowthrough incubation system, we observed significant correlations among NO(3)(-), NO(2)(-), NH(4)(+), and PO(4)(3+) fluxes, indicating a tight coupling of sediment biogeochemical processes. (15)N-based measurements of nitrification rates revealed higher rates at the less impacted, lower-nutrient sites than at the more heavily impacted, nutrient-rich sites. Quantitative PCR analyses revealed that β-AOB amoA (encoding ammonia monooxygenase subunit A) gene copies outnumbered AOA amoA gene copies by factors ranging from 2- to 236-fold across the four sites. Sites with high nitrification rates primarily contained marine/estuarine Nitrosospira-like bacterial amoA sequences and phylogenetically diverse archaeal amoA sequences. Sites with low nitrification rates were dominated by estuarine Nitrosomonas-like amoA sequences and archaeal amoA sequences similar to those previously described in soils. This is the first report measuring AOA and β-AOB amoA abundance in conjunction with (15)N-based nitrification rates in estuary sediments.

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