Ammonia oxidation, performed by specialized microorganisms belonging to the Bacteria and Archaea, is the first and most limiting step of soil nitrification. Nitrification has not yet been examined in young volcanic soils. The aim of the present work was to evaluate the abundance and diversity of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA) in acidic volcanic soils (andisols) of different defined ages to determine their relative contribution to nitrification and soil colonization. Soil was collected from three vegetated sites on Llaima Volcano (Chile) recolonized after lava eruptions in 1640, 1751 and 1957. Quantitative polymerase chain reaction, terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and clone sequence analyses of the amoA gene were performed for the AOA and AOB communities. All soils showed high nitrification potentials, but they were highest in the younger soils. Archaeal amoA genes outnumbered bacterial amoA genes at all sites, and AOA abundances were found to be proportional to the nitrification potentials. Sequencing indicated the presence of AOA related to Nitrososphaera and Nitrosotalea, and AOB related primarily to Nitrosospira and sporadically to Nitrosomonas. The study showed that both AOA and AOB are early colonizers of andisols, but that AOA outnumber AOB and play an important role in nitrification.
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