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Summary

To determine whether the distribution of estuarine ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) was influenced by salinity, the community structure of betaproteobacterial ammonia oxidizers (AOB) was characterized along a salinity gradient in sediments of the Ythan estuary, on the east coast of Scotland, UK, by denaturant gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), cloning and sequencing of 16S rRNA gene fragments. Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria communities at sampling sites with strongest marine influence were dominated by Nitrosospira cluster 1-like sequences and those with strongest freshwater influence were dominated by Nitrosomonas oligotropha-like sequences. Nitrosomonas sp. Nm143 was the prevailing sequence type in communities at intermediate brackish sites. Diversity indices of AOB communities were similar at marine- and freshwater-influenced sites and did not indicate lower species diversity at intermediate brackish sites. The presence of sequences highly similar to the halophilic Nitrosomonas marina and the freshwater strain Nitrosomonas oligotropha at identical sampling sites indicates that AOB communities in the estuary are adapted to a range of salinities, while individual strains may be active at different salinities. Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria communities that were dominated by Nitrosospira cluster 1 sequence types, for which no cultured representative exists, were subjected to stable isotope probing (SIP) with 13C-HCO3, to label the nucleic acids of active autotrophic nitrifiers. Analysis of 13C-associated 16S rRNA gene fragments, following CsCl density centrifugation, by cloning and DGGE indicated sequences highly similar to the AOB Nitrosomonas sp. Nm143 and Nitrosomonas cryotolerans and to the nitrite oxidizer Nitrospira marina. No sequence with similarity to the Nitrosospira cluster 1 clade was recovered during SIP analysis. The potential role of Nitrosospira cluster 1 in autotrophic ammonia oxidation therefore remains uncertain.