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Summary

The relationship between environmental factors and functional gene diversity of ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) was investigated across a transect from the freshwater portions of the Chesapeake Bay and Choptank River out into the Sargasso Sea. Oligonucleotide probes (70-bp) designed to represent the diversity of ammonia monooxygenase (amoA) genes from Chesapeake Bay clone libraries and cultivated AOB were used to construct a glass slide microarray. Hybridization patterns among the probes in 14 samples along the transect showed clear variations in amoA community composition. Probes representing uncultivated members of the Nitrosospira-like AOB dominated the probe signal, especially in the more marine samples. Of the cultivated species, only Nitrosospira briensis was detected at appreciable levels. Discrimination analysis of hybridization signals detected two guilds. Guild 1 was dominated by the marine Nitrosospira-like probe signal, and Guild 2′s largest contribution was from upper bay (freshwater) sediment probes. Principal components analysis showed that Guild 1 was positively correlated with salinity, temperature and chlorophyll a concentration, while Guild 2 was positively correlated with concentrations of oxygen, dissolved organic carbon, and particulate nitrogen and carbon, suggesting that different amoA sequences represent organisms that occupy different ecological niches within the estuarine/marine environment. The trend from most diversity of AOB in the upper estuary towards dominance of a single type in the polyhaline region of the Bay is consistent with the declining importance of AOB with increasing salinity, and with the idea that AO-Archaea are the more important ammonia oxidizers in the ocean.