Effects of temporal pH shifts on ammonia oxidiser community structure and function
Soil nitrification, the oxidation of ammonia to nitrate, is and driven by bacterial and archaeal autotrophic ammonia oxidisers (AOB and AOA) that carry out the first, rate limiting, step of oxidising ammonia to nitrite. Previous work has suggested that adaptation and selection in AOA and AOB communities is, to some extent, pH driven. Acidophilic, acido-neutral, and alkalinophilic groups have been identified by environmental surveys of amoA genes. These studies of the role of pH in determining ammonia oxidiser community structure and activity have largely relied on spatial pH gradients. In many managed soil systems (e.g., agricultural systems) edaphic factors (e.g., pH, N concentrations) vary widely temporally and the implications of short term temporal shifts in factors thought to govern oxidiser community structure, and therefore our ability to manipulate edaphic factors to direct community structure, are not well understood. We investigated the roles of pH in driving nitrifier activity (potential) and community structure over a crop growing season (6 sampling points) in agricultural soils by comparing unamended soils with soils amended with lime to create a temporal pH gradient. Liming induced a rapid and sustained change in the pH of surface soils (0-10cm), with pH in these soils increasing from 4.8 to 6.5, while in subsurface soils pH increased to a lesser degree after liming (4.3 – 4.5). After liming, potential nitrification rates increased significantly throughout the production season in both surface and subsurface soils. TRFLP analysis of total bacterial and archaeal communities showed significant partitioning of the broader communities with soil depth, pH treatment and time, suggesting that microbial communities respond rapidly to changes and that temporal variation in community structure is an important, if often overlooked, factor in assessing microbial diversity patterns. These changes were greater for bacterial, than archaeal, communities. We then utilised amoA gene microarrays to investigate specific AOA and AOB community responses to temporally induced pH changes. Despite significant changes to ammonia oxidiser function, we saw only very weak changes in community structure of AOA and AOB, suggesting that over shorter temporal periods soil communities are resilient to environmental change and that niche partitioning of ammonia oxidiser communities is likely to be spatially, rather than temporally, governed.