Ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) have long been considered key to the removal of nitrogen in activated sludge bioreactors. Culture-independent molecular analyses have established that AOB lineages in bioreactors are dynamic, but the underlying operational or environmental factors are unclear. Furthermore, the contribution of ammonia-oxidizing archaea (AOA) to nitrogen removal in bioreactors has not been studied. To this end, we investigated the abundance of AOA and AOB as well as correlations between dynamics in AOB lineages and operational parameters at a municipal wastewater treatment plant sampled weekly over a 1 year period. Quantitative PCR measurements of bacterial and archaeal ammonia monooxygenase subunit A (amoA) genes revealed that the bacterial homologue predominated by at least three orders of magnitude in all samples. Archaeal amoA was only detectable in ∼15% of these samples. Using terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis, we monitored AOB lineages based on amoA genes. The Nitrosomonas europaea lineage and a novel Nitrosomonas-like cluster were the dominant AOB signatures, with a Nitrosospira lineage present at lower relative abundance. These lineages exhibited strong temporal oscillations, with one becoming sequentially dominant over the other. Using non-metric multidimensional scaling and redundancy analyses, we tested correlations between terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism profiles and 20 operational and environmental parameters. The redundancy analyses indicated that the dynamics of AOB lineages correlated most strongly with temperature, dissolved oxygen and influent nitrite and chromium. The Nitrosospira lineage signal had a strong negative correlation to dissolved oxygen and temperature, while the Nitrosomonas-like (negative correlations) and N. europaea lineages (positive correlations) were inversely linked (relative to one another) to influent nitrite and chromium. Overall, this study suggests that AOA may be minor contributors to ammonia oxidation in highly aerated activated sludge, and provides insight into parameters controlling the diversity and dominance of AOB lineages within bioreactors during periods of stable nitrification.
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