Habitat specialization along a wetland moisture gradient differs between ammonia-oxidizing and denitrifying microorganisms

Microb Ecol. 2014 Aug;68(2):339-50. doi: 10.1007/s00248-014-0407-4.


Gradients in abiotic parameters, such as soil moisture,can strongly influence microbial community structure and function. Denitrifying and ammonia-oxidizing microorganisms,in particular, have contrasting physiological responses to abiotic factors such as oxygen concentration and soil moisture. Identifying abiotic factors that govern the composition and activity of denitrifying and ammonia-oxidizing communities is critical for understanding the nitrogen cycle.The objectives of this study were to (i) examine denitrifier andarchaeal ammonia oxidizer community composition and (ii) assess the taxa occurring within each functional group related to soil conditions along an environmental gradient. Soil was sampled across four transects at four locations along a dry to saturated environmental gradient at a restored wetland. Soil pH and soil organic matter content increased from dry to saturated plots. Composition of soil denitrifier and ammonia oxidizer functional groups was assessed by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) community analysis, and local soil factors were also characterized. Microbial community composition of denitrifiers and ammonia oxidizers differed along the moisture gradient (denitrifier:ANOSIM R = 0.739, P < 0.001; ammonia oxidizers: ANOSIMR = 0.760, P < 0.001). Individual denitrifier taxa were observed over a larger range of moisture levels than individual archaeal ammonia oxidizer taxa (Wilcoxon rank sum, W = 2413, P value = 0.0002). Together, our data suggest that variation in environmental tolerance of microbial taxa have potential to influence nitrogen cycling in terrestrial ecosystems.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Ammonia / metabolism*
  • Archaea / classification*
  • Archaea / genetics
  • Denitrification*
  • Genes, Archaeal
  • Hydrology
  • Illinois
  • Microbial Consortia
  • Oxidation-Reduction
  • Polymorphism, Restriction Fragment Length
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Soil Microbiology*
  • Water
  • Wetlands*


  • Water
  • Ammonia