Stimulation of thaumarchaeal ammonia oxidation by ammonia derived from organic nitrogen but not added inorganic nitrogen

Spela Levicnik-Hoefferle, Graeme W. Nicol, Luka Ausec, Ines Mandic-Mulec, James I. Prosser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

142 Citations (Scopus)


Ammonia oxidation, the first step in nitrification, is performed by autotrophic bacteria and thaumarchaea, whose relative contributions vary in different soils. Distinctive environmental niches for the two groups have not been identified, but evidence from previous studies suggests that activity of thaumarchaea, unlike that of bacterial ammonia oxidizers, is unaffected by addition of inorganic N fertilizer and that they preferentially utilize ammonia generated from the mineralization of organic N. This hypothesis was tested by determining the influence of both inorganic and organic N sources on nitrification rate and ammonia oxidizer growth and community structure in microcosms containing acidic, forest soil in which ammonia oxidation was dominated by thaumarchaea. Nitrification rate was unaffected by the incubation of soil with inorganic ammonium but was significantly stimulated by the addition of organic N. Oxidation of ammonia generated from native soil organic matter or added organic N, but not added inorganic N, was accompanied by increases in abundance of the thaumarchaeal amoA gene, a functional gene for ammonia oxidation, but changes in community structure were not observed. Bacterial amoA genes could not be detected. Ammonia oxidation was completely inhibited by 0.01% acetylene in all treatments, indicating ammonia monooxygenase-dependent activity. The findings have implications for current models of soil nitrification and for nitrification control strategies to minimize fertilizer loss and nitrous oxide production.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)114-123
Number of pages10
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number1
Early online date9 Jan 2012
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2012


  • ammonia oxidizers
  • mineralization
  • nitrification
  • soil
  • thaumarchaea
  • biological nitrification inhibition
  • bacterial community structure
  • oxidizing archaea
  • low PH
  • Mesophilic crenarchaeota
  • nitrifying archaea
  • soil microcosms
  • North-Atlantic
  • Boreal forest
  • amino-acids


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