Soil microbial habitats are altered by mulching, a common practice in urban areas during which vegetation is removed and soils covered to suppress weeds and retain moisture. Soil microorganisms drive nitrogen-cycling processes in mulched soils, because living plants no longer take up ammonium-N released during decomposition of residual organic matter. Because ammonia oxidizers carry out the first, rate-limiting step of nitrification, we compared ammonia oxidizers in experimental, unfertilized plots of mulched and vegetated soils. We hypothesized that mulched and vegetated soils would support contrasting communities of bacterial and archaeal ammonia oxidizers, as determined by quantitative PCR and primers specific for genes encoding ammonia monooxygenase subunit A (amoA). Clone libraries of archaeal amoA also were constructed to compare diversity in soil cores, duplicate blocked plots, and treatments (bark-mulched, gravel-mulched, and unmanaged old field vegetation). Gene copies from ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) ranged from 2.2 × 106 to 2.7 × 107 gene copies per gram dry soil and did not differ across treatments. In contrast, gene copies from ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) ranged from 9.1 × 105 to 1.0 × 108 copies per gram dry soil, with bark-mulched soils having significantly lower abundance. Community structure of AOA in gravel-mulched soils was distinct from the other two treatments. At 97% amino acid similarity, 22 operational taxonomic units, or OTUs, were identified, with only one OTU found in all 18 clone libraries. This ubiquitous OTU-1, which was highly similar to published amoA sequences recovered from soils, comprised 55% of all 482 translated sequences. Greater variability in OTU richness was observed among cores from mulched soils than from vegetated soils. Our observations supported our hypothesis that AOA communities differ in mulched and vegetated soils, with mulched soils providing altered and variable microniches for these N cycling microorganisms.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Soil Science