The biogeography of ammonia-oxidizing bacterial communities in soil

Microb Ecol. 2009 Aug;58(2):435-45. doi: 10.1007/s00248-009-9517-9. Epub 2009 Apr 8.


Although ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) are likely to play a key role in the soil nitrogen cycle, we have only a limited understanding of how the diversity and composition of soil AOB communities change across ecosystem types. We examined 23 soils collected from across North America and used sequence-based analyses to compare the AOB communities in each of the distinct soils. Using 97% 16S rRNA sequence similarity groups, we identified only 24 unique AOB phylotypes across all of the soils sampled. The majority of the sequences collected were in the Nitrosospira lineages (representing 80% of all the sequences collected), and AOB belonging to Nitrosospira cluster 3 were particularly common in our clone libraries and ubiquitous across the soil types. Community composition was highly variable across the collected soils, and similar ecosystem types did not always harbor similar AOB communities. We did not find any significant correlations between AOB community composition and measures of N availability. From the suite of environmental variables measured, we found the strongest correlation between temperature and AOB community composition; soils exposed to similar mean annual temperatures tended to have similar AOB communities. This finding is consistent with previous studies and suggests that temperature selects for specific AOB lineages. Given that distinct AOB taxa are likely to have unique functional attributes, the biogeographical patterns exhibited by soil AOB may be directly relevant to understanding soil nitrogen dynamics under changing environmental conditions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism*
  • Ecosystem*
  • Nitrogen / metabolism
  • Nitrosomonadaceae / classification
  • Nitrosomonadaceae / genetics*
  • Nitrosomonadaceae / metabolism
  • North America
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Phylogeny
  • RNA, Bacterial / genetics
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Soil / analysis
  • Soil Microbiology*


  • RNA, Bacterial
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S
  • Soil
  • Ammonia
  • Nitrogen