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Applied and Environmental Microbiology
Vol. 81(1); 2015; Pages: 159-165

amoA Gene Abundances and Nitrification Potential Rates Suggest that Benthic Ammonia-Oxidizing Bacteria and Not Archaea Dominate N Cycling in the Colne Estuary, United Kingdom

Jialin Lia, David B. Nedwell, Jessica Beddow, Alex J. Dumbrell, Boyd A. McKew, Emma L. Thorpe and Corinne Whitby

School of Biological Sciences, University of Essex, Colchester, United Kingdom


Nitrification, mediated by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA), is important in global nitrogen cycling. In estuaries where gradients of salinity and ammonia concentrations occur, there may be differential selections for ammonia-oxidizer populations. The aim of this study was to examine the activity, abundance, and diversity of AOA and AOB in surface oxic sediments of a highly nutrified estuary that exhibits gradients of salinity and ammonium. AOB and AOA communities were investigated by measuring ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) gene abundance and nitrification potentials both spatially and temporally. Nitrification potentials differed along the estuary and over time, with the greatest nitrification potentials occurring mid-estuary (8.2 Ámol N grams dry weight [gdw]-1 day-1 in June, increasing to 37.4 Ámol N gdw-1 day-1 in January). At the estuary head, the nitrification potential was 4.3 Ámol N gdw-1 day-1 in June, increasing to 11.7 Ámol N gdw-1 day-1 in January. At the estuary head and mouth, nitrification potentials fluctuated throughout the year. AOB amoA gene abundances were significantly greater (by 100-fold) than those of AOA both spatially and temporally. Nitrosomonas spp. were detected along the estuary by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE) band sequence analysis. In conclusion, AOB dominated over AOA in the estuarine sediments, with the ratio of AOB/AOA amoA gene abundance increasing from the upper (freshwater) to lower (marine) regions of the Colne estuary. These findings suggest that in this nutrified estuary, AOB (possibly Nitrosomonas spp.) were of major significance in nitrification.


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