Ammonium/ammonia is the sole energy substrate of ammonia oxidizers, and is also an essential nitrogen source for other microorganisms. Ammonia oxidizers therefore must compete with other soil microorganisms such as methane-oxidizing bacteria (MOB) in terrestrial ecosystems when ammonium concentrations are limiting. Here we report on the interactions between nitrifying communities dominated by ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) and Nitrospira-like nitrite-oxidizing bacteria (NOB), and communities of MOB in controlled microcosm experiments with two levels of ammonium and methane availability. We observed strong stimulatory effects of elevated ammonium concentration on the processes of nitrification and methane oxidation as well as on the abundances of autotrophically growing nitrifiers. However, the key players in nitrification and methane oxidation, identified by stable-isotope labeling using 13CO2 and 13CH4, were the same under both ammonium levels, namely type 1.1a AOA, sublineage I and II Nitrospira-like NOB and Methylomicrobium-/Methylosarcina-like MOB, respectively. Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria were nearly absent, and ammonia oxidation could almost exclusively be attributed to AOA. Interestingly, although AOA functional gene abundance increased 10-fold during incubation, there was very limited evidence of autotrophic growth, suggesting a partly mixotrophic lifestyle. Furthermore, autotrophic growth of AOA and NOB was inhibited by active MOB at both ammonium levels. Our results suggest the existence of a previously overlooked competition for nitrogen between nitrifiers and methane oxidizers in soil, thus linking two of the most important biogeochemical cycles in nature.
Daebeler, A., Bodelier, P. L. E., Yan, Z., Hefting, M. M., Jia, Z., & Laanbroek, H. J. (2014). Interactions between Thaumarchaea, Nitrospira and methanotrophs modulate autotrophic nitrification in volcanic grassland soil. ISME Journal, 8, 2397-2410. https://doi.org/10.1038/ismej.2014.81