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Metagenomic analysis reveals distinct patterns of denitrification gene abundance across soil moisture, nitrate gradients

Nadeau, Sarah A., Roco, Constance A., Debenport, Spencer J., Anderson, Todd R., Hofmeister, Kathryn L., Walter, M. Todd, Shapleigh, James P.
Environmental microbiology 2019 v.21 no.4 pp. 1255-1266
community structure, denitrification, environmental factors, genes, metagenomics, microbial communities, nitrates, nitrogen, pollution, proteins, soil water, surveys
This study coupled a landscape‐scale metagenomic survey of denitrification gene abundance in soils with in situ denitrification measurements to show how environmental factors shape distinct denitrification communities that exhibit varying denitrification activity. Across a hydrologic gradient, the distribution of total denitrification genes (nap/nar + nirK/nirS + cNor/qNor + nosZ) inferred from metagenomic read abundance exhibited no consistent patterns. However, when genes were considered independently, nirS, cNor and nosZ read abundance was positively associated with areas of higher soil moisture, higher nitrate and higher annual denitrification rates, whereas nirK and qNor read abundance was negatively associated with these factors. These results suggest that environmental conditions, in particular soil moisture and nitrate, select for distinct denitrification communities that are characterized by differential abundance of genes encoding apparently functionally redundant proteins. In contrast, taxonomic analysis did not identify notable variability in denitrifying community composition across sites. While the capacity to denitrify was ubiquitous across sites, denitrification genes with higher energetic costs, such as nirS and cNor, appear to confer a selective advantage in microbial communities experiencing more frequent soil saturation and greater nitrate inputs. This study suggests metagenomics can help identify denitrification hotspots that could be protected or enhanced to treat non‐point source nitrogen pollution.