Management versus site effects on the abundance of nitrifiers and denitrifiers in {European} mountain grasslands

It is well established that the abundances of nitrogen (N) transforming microbes are strongly influenced by land-use intensity in lowland grasslands. However, their responses to management change in less productive and less fertilized mountain grasslands are largely unknown. We studied eight mountain grasslands, positioned along gradients of management intensity in Austria, the UK, and France, which differed in their historical management trajectories. We measured the abundance of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA) as well as nitrite-reducing bacteria using specific marker genes. We found that management affected the abundance of these microbial groups along each transect, though the specific responses differed between sites, due to different management histories and resulting variations in environmental parameters. In Austria, cessation of management caused an increase in nirK and nirS gene abundances. In the UK, intensification of grassland management led to 10-fold increases in the abundances of AOA and AOB and doubling of nirK gene abundance. In France, ploughing of previously mown grassland caused a 20-fold increase in AOA abundance. Across sites the abundance of AOB was most strongly related to soil NO3–N availability, and AOA were favoured by higher soil pH. Among the nitrite reducers, nirS abundance correlated most strongly with N parameters, such as soil NO3–N, microbial N, leachate NH4+-N, while the abundance of nirK-denitrifiers was affected by soil total N, organic matter (SOM) and water content. We conclude that alteration of soil environmental conditions is the dominant mechanism by which land management practices influence the abundance of each group of ammonia oxidizers and nitrite reducers.


Management versus site effects on the abundance of nitrifiers and denitrifiers in {European} mountain grasslands
Publication Type
Journal Article
Year of Publication
Science of The Total Environment
Date Published
CNRS, Lautaret
Submitted on 21 October 2021