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Philos Trans R Soc Lond B Biol Sci. 2012 May 5;367(1593):1235-44. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2011.0314.

Impacts of nitrogen application rates on the activity and diversity of denitrifying bacteria in the Broadbalk Wheat Experiment.

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Rothamsted Research, Harpenden, Hertfordshire, UK.


Bacterial denitrification results in the loss of fertilizer nitrogen and greenhouse gas emissions as nitrous oxides, but ecological factors in soil influencing denitrifier communities are not well understood, impeding the potential for mitigation by land management. Communities vary in the relative abundance of the alternative dissimilatory nitrite reductase genes nirK and nirS, and the nitrous oxide reductase gene nosZ; however, the significance for nitrous oxide emissions is unclear. We assessed the influence of different long-term fertilization and cultivation treatments in a 160-year-old field experiment, comparing the potential for denitrification by soil samples with the size and diversity of their denitrifier communities. Denitrification potential was much higher in soil from an area left to develop from arable into woodland than from a farmyard manure-fertilized arable treatment, which in turn was significantly higher than inorganic nitrogen-fertilized and unfertilized arable plots. This correlated with abundance of nirK but not nirS, the least abundant of the genes tested in all soils, showing an inverse relationship with nirK. Most genetic variation was seen in nirK, where sequences resolved into separate groups according to soil treatment. We conclude that bacteria containing nirK are most probably responsible for the increased denitrification potential associated with nitrogen and organic carbon in this soil.

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