Plant presence and species combination, but not diversity, influence denitrifier activity and the composition of nirK-type denitrifier communities in grassland soil


  • Editor: Christoph Tebbe

Correspondence: Gesche Braker, Max Planck Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology, Karl-von-Frisch-Strasse, D-35043 Marburg, Germany. Tel.: +49 6421 178 733; fax: +49 6421 178 999; e-mail:


To explore potential links between plant communities, soil denitrifiers and denitrifier function, the impact of presence, diversity (i.e. species richness) and plant combination on nirK-type denitrifier community composition and on denitrifier activity was studied in artificial grassland plant assemblages over two consecutive years. Mesocosms containing zero, four and eight species and different combinations of two species were set up. Differences in denitrifier community composition were analysed by canonical correspondence analyses following terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism analysis of PCR-amplified nirK gene fragments coding for the copper-containing nitrite reductase. As a measure of denitrifier function, denitrifier enzyme activity (DEA) was determined in the soil samples. The presence as well as the combination of plants and sampling time, but not plant diversity, affected the composition of the nirK-type denitrifier community and DEA. Denitrifier activity significantly increased in the presence of plants, especially when they were growing during summer and autumn. Overall, we found a strong and direct linkage of denitrifier community composition and functioning, but also that plants had additional effects on denitrifier function that could not be solely explained by their effects on nirK-type denitrifier community composition.