Heterotrophic protists in soil are grazers that control the biomass and community structure of bacteria, thereby enhancing nutrient recycling. Oxygen regulates the microeukaryotic community, but little is known about its response to microoxic conditions. Here we studied the impact of oxygen tension on culturable heterotrophic protists in a rice field soil. The number of protists, dominated by amoeba and flagellates, under oxygen tensions ranging from atmospheric level (21%) to below the Pasteur point (0.08%) were similar (104 cells g−1 dry soil); no protists were detected under anoxic conditions. DGGE fingerprinting of microeukaryotes demonstrated a shift in the community structure depending on the oxygen tension during growth. Both common and specific amoeba and flagellates were identified at different oxygen tensions. Amoeba isolates (Acanthamoeba sp. and Hartmannella sp.) grew to the same extent under the oxygen tensions tested; the Acanthamoeba sp. isolate migrated more slowly under the lowest tension (0.08%). Our results demonstrated that amoeba and flagellates in soil adapt to a wide range of oxygen tensions with a shift in community structure. This suggests an ability to search for food in soil environments such as the oxic–anoxic interface of flooded soil or inside soil aggregates that are inaccessible to ciliates.
One sentence summary: Amoeba and flagellates in a rice field soil adapt to a wide range of oxygen tensions down to below the Pasteur point with a shift in community structure.