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Nitrogen Cycling Potential of a Grassland Litter Microbial Community.

  • Author(s): Nelson, Michaeline B;
  • Berlemont, Renaud;
  • Martiny, Adam C;
  • Martiny, Jennifer BH
  • et al.

Because microorganisms have different abilities to utilize nitrogen (N) through various assimilatory and dissimilatory pathways, microbial composition and diversity likely influence N cycling in an ecosystem. Terrestrial plant litter decomposition is often limited by N availability; however, little is known about the microorganisms involved in litter N cycling. In this study, we used metagenomics to characterize the potential N utilization of microbial communities in grassland plant litter. The frequencies of sequences associated with eight N cycling pathways differed by several orders of magnitude. Within a pathway, the distributions of these sequences among bacterial orders differed greatly. Many orders within the Actinobacteria and Proteobacteria appeared to be N cycling generalists, carrying genes from most (five or six) of the pathways. In contrast, orders from the Bacteroidetes were more specialized and carried genes for fewer (two or three) pathways. We also investigated how the abundance and composition of microbial N cycling genes differed over time and in response to two global change manipulations (drought and N addition). For many pathways, the abundance and composition of N cycling taxa differed over time, apparently reflecting precipitation patterns. In contrast to temporal variability, simulated global change had minor effects on N cycling potential. Overall, this study provides a blueprint for the genetic potential of N cycle processes in plant litter and a baseline for comparisons to other ecosystems.

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