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Adaptation of soil nitrifiers to very low nitrogen level jeopardizes the efficiency of chemical fertilization in west african moist savannas

Abstract : The moist savanna zone covers 0.5 x 10(6) km(2) in West Africa and is characterized by very low soil N levels limiting primary production, but the ecology of nitrifiers in these (agro) ecosystems is largely unknown. We compared the effects of six agricultural practices on nitrifier activity, abundance and diversity at nine sites in central Ivory Coast. Treatments, including repeated fertilization with ammonium and urea, had no effect on nitrification and crop N status after 3 to 5 crop cycles. Nitrification was actually higher at low than medium ammonium level. The nitrifying community was always dominated by ammonia oxidizing archaea and Nitrospira. However, the abundances of ammonia oxidizing bacteria, AOB, and Nitrobacter increased with fertilization after 5 crop cycles. Several AOB populations, some affiliated to Nitrosospira strains with urease activity or adapted to fluctuating ammonium levels, emerged in fertilized plots, which was correlated to nitrifying community ability to benefit from fertilization. In these soils, dominant nitrifiers adapted to very low ammonium levels have to be replaced by high-N nitrifiers before fertilization can stimulate nitrification. Our results show that the delay required for this replacement is much longer than ever observed for other terrestrial ecosystems, i.e. >5 crop cycles, and demonstrate for the first time that nitrifier characteristics jeopardize the efficiency of fertilization in moist savanna soils.
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Féline L. Assémien, Thomas Pommier, J. T. Gonnety, Jonathan Gervaix, Xavier Le Roux. Adaptation of soil nitrifiers to very low nitrogen level jeopardizes the efficiency of chemical fertilization in west african moist savannas. Scientific Reports, Nature Publishing Group, 2017, 7 (1), ⟨10.1038/s41598-017-10185-5⟩. ⟨hal-02487206⟩

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