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Front Microbiol. 2012 Jul 9;3:244. doi: 10.3389/fmicb.2012.00244. eCollection 2012.

Diversity and abundance of ammonia oxidizing archaea in tropical compost systems.

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Faculty of Science and Agriculture, Department of Food Production, The University of the West Indies St. Augustine Campus, Republic of Trinidad and Tobago.


Composting is widely used to transform waste materials into valuable agricultural products. In the tropics, large quantities of agricultural wastes could be potentially useful in agriculture after composting. However, while microbiological processes of composts in general are well established, relatively little is known about microbial communities that may be unique to these in tropical systems, particularly nitrifiers. The recent discovery of ammonia oxidizing archaea (AOA) has changed the paradigm of nitrification being initiated solely by ammonia oxidizing bacteria. In the present study, AOA abundance and diversity was examined in composts produced from combinations of plant waste materials common in tropical agriculture (rice straw, sugar cane bagasse, and coffee hulls), which were mixed with either cow- or sheep-manure. The objective was to determine how AOA abundance and diversity varied as a function of compost system and time, the latter being a contrast between the start of the compost process (mesophilic phase) and the finished product (mature phase). The results showed that AOA were relatively abundant in composts of tropical agricultural wastes, and significantly more so than were the ammonia-oxidizing bacteria. Furthermore, while the AOA communities in the composts were predominatly group I.1b, the communities were diverse and exhibited structures that diverged between compost types and phases. These patterns could be taken as indicators of the ecophysiological diversity in the soil AOA (group I.1b), in that significantly different AOA communties developed when exposed to varying physico-chemical environments. Nitrification patterns and levels differed in the composts which, for the mature material, could have significant effects on its performance as a plant growth medium. Thus, it will also be important to determine the association of AOA (and diversity in their communities) with nitrification in these systems.


ammonia oxidizing archaea; compost; diversity; molecular ecology; nitrification

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