Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium in Upland Tropical Forest Soils

Dissimilatory Nitrate Reduction to Ammonium in Upland Tropical Forest Soils
Whendee L. Silver, Donald J. Herman and Mary K. Firestone
Vol. 82, No. 9 (Sep., 2001), pp. 2410-2416

The internal transformations of nitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems exert strong controls over nitrogen availability to net primary productivity, nitrate leaching into groundwater, and emissions of nitrogen-based greenhouse gas. Here we report a reductive pathway for nitrogen cycling in upland tropical forest soils that decreases the amount of nitrate susceptible to leaching and denitrification, thus conserving nitrogen in the ecosystem. Using 15N tracers we measured rates of dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) in upland humid tropical forest soils averaging ;0.6 mg·g21·d21. Rates of DNRA were three times greater than the combined N2O and N2 fluxes from nitrification and denitrification and accounted for 75% of the turnover of the nitrate pool. To determine the relative importance of ambient C, O2, and NO3 concentrations on rates of DNRA, we estimated rates of DNRA in laboratory assays using soils from three tropical forests (cloud forest, palm forest, and wet tropical forest) that differed in ambient C and O2 concentrations. Rates of DNRA measured in laboratory assays ranged from 0.5 to 9 mg·g21·d21 in soils from the three different forests and appeared to be primarily limited by the availability of NO3, as opposed to C or O2. Tests of sterile soils indicated that the dominant reductive pathway for both NO2 and NO3 was biotic and not abiotic. Because NH4 is the form of N generally favored for assimilation by plants and microbes, and NO3 is easily lost from the ecosystem, the rapid and direct transformation of NO3 to NH4 via DNRA has the potential to play an important role in ecosystem N conservation.