Ammonia-oxidizing bacterial communities are affected by nitrogen fertilization and grass species in native C4 grassland soils

PeerJ. 2021 Dec 16;9:e12592. doi: 10.7717/peerj.12592. eCollection 2021.


Background: Fertilizer addition can contribute to nitrogen (N) losses from soil by affecting microbial populations responsible for nitrification. However, the effects of N fertilization on ammonia oxidizing bacteria under C4 perennial grasses in nutrient-poor grasslands are not well studied.

Methods: In this study, a field experiment was used to assess the effects of N fertilization rate (0, 67, and 202 kg N ha-1) and grass species (switchgrass (Panicum virgatum) and big bluestem (Andropogon gerardii)) on ammonia-oxidizing bacterial (AOB) communities in C4 grassland soils using quantitative PCR, quantitative reverse transcription-PCR, and high-throughput amplicon sequencing of amoA genes.

Results: Nitrosospira were dominant AOB in the C4 grassland soil throughout the growing season. N fertilization rate had a stronger influence on AOB community composition than C4 grass species. Elevated N fertilizer application increased the abundance, activity, and alpha-diversity of AOB communities as well as nitrification potential, nitrous oxide (N2O) emission and soil acidity. The abundance and species richness of AOB were higher under switchgrass compared to big bluestem. Soil pH, nitrate, nitrification potential, and N2O emission were significantly related to the variability in AOB community structures (p < 0.05).

Keywords: Ammonia oxidizing bacteria; Big bluestem grass; N fertilizer; Soil microbiology; Switchgrass; amoA.

Grant support

This work was supported by the United States Department of Agriculture (No. USDA-NIFA 2016-67020-25352). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.