Links between seawater flooding, soil ammonia oxidiser communities and their response to changes in salinity

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Abstract

Coastal areas worldwide are challenged by climate change-associated increases in sea level and storm surge quantities that potentially lead to more frequent flooding of soil ecosystems. Currently, little is known of the effects of inundation events on microorganisms controlling nitrification in these ecosystems. The goal of this study was to investigate the impact of seawater flooding on the abundance, community composition and salinity tolerance of soil ammonia oxidisers. Topsoil was sampled from three islands flooded at different frequencies by the Wadden Sea. Archaeal ammonia oxidiser amoA genes were more abundant than their betaproteobacterial counterparts, and the distribution of archaeal and bacterial ammonia oxidiser amoA and 16S rRNA gene sequences significantly differed between the islands. The findings indicate selection of ammonia oxidiser phylotypes with greater tolerance to high salinity and slightly alkaline pH (e.g. Nitrosopumilus representatives) in frequently flooded soils. A cluster phylogenetically related to gammaproteobacterial ammonia oxidisers was detected in all samples analysed in this survey. Nevertheless, no gammaprotebacterial amoA genes could be amplified via PCR and only betaproteobacterial ammonia oxidisers were detected in enrichment cultures. A slurry-based experiment demonstrated the tolerance of both bacterial and archaeal ammonia oxidisers to a wide range of salinities (e.g. Wadden Sea water salinity) in soil naturally exposed to seawater at a high frequency.

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