Abundance and diversity of ammonia-oxidizing prokaryotes in the root-rhizosphere complex of Miscanthus × giganteus grown in heavy metal-contaminated soils

Microb Ecol. 2012 Nov;64(4):1038-46. doi: 10.1007/s00248-012-0078-y. Epub 2012 Jun 12.


Mine wastes have been considered as a source of heavy metal (HM) contamination in the environment and negatively impact many important ecosystem services provided by soils. Plants like Miscanthus, which tolerate high HM concentrations in soil, are often used for phytoremediation and provide the possibility to use these soils at least for the production of energy crops. However, it is not clear if plant growth at these sites is limited by the availability of nutrients, mainly nitrogen, as microbes in soil might be affected by the contaminant. Therefore, in this study, we investigated in a greenhouse experiment the response of ammonia-oxidizing microbes in the root-rhizosphere complex of Miscanthus × giganteus grown in soils with different levels of long-term arsenic (As) and lead (Pb) contamination. Quantitative PCR of the ammonia monooxigenease gene (amoA) was performed to assess the abundance of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA) at two different points of plant growth. Furthermore, bulk soil samples before planting were analyzed. In addition, terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) analysis was used to investigate the diversity of archaeal amoA amplicons. Whereas high concentrations of As and Pb in soil (83 and 15 g/kg, respectively) resulted independent from plant growth in a clear reduction of AOA and AOB compared to the control soils with lower HM contents, in soils with contamination levels of 10 g/kg As and 0.2 g/kg Pb, only AOB were negatively affected in bulk soil samples. Diversity analysis of archaeal amoA genes revealed clear differences in T-RFLP patterns in response to the degree of HM contamination. Therefore, our results could clearly prove the different response patterns of AOA and AOB in HM-contaminated soils and the development of archaeal amoA phylotypes which are more tolerant towards HMs in soil samples from the areas that were impacted the most by mining waste, which could contribute to functional redundancy of ammonia-oxidizing microbes in soils and stability of nitrification pattern.

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism*
  • Archaea / classification
  • Archaea / enzymology
  • Archaea / genetics
  • Archaea / isolation & purification*
  • Arsenic / metabolism
  • Bacteria / classification
  • Bacteria / enzymology
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification*
  • Lead / metabolism
  • Metals, Heavy / metabolism*
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Oxidoreductases / genetics
  • Oxidoreductases / metabolism
  • Phylogeny
  • Plant Roots / microbiology
  • Poaceae* / growth & development
  • Poaceae* / microbiology
  • Polymerase Chain Reaction / methods
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Rhizosphere*
  • Soil Pollutants / metabolism*


  • Metals, Heavy
  • Soil Pollutants
  • Lead
  • Ammonia
  • Oxidoreductases
  • ammonia monooxygenase
  • Arsenic