Differential photoinhibition of bacterial and archaeal ammonia oxidation

Stephanie N. Merbt, David A. Stahl, Emilio O. Casamayor, Eugenia Marti, Graeme W. Nicol, James I. Prosser

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

197 Citations (Scopus)


Inhibition by light potentially influences the distribution of ammonia oxidizers in aquatic environments and is one explanation for nitrite maxima near the base of the euphotic zone of oceanic waters. Previous studies of photoinhibition have been restricted to bacterial ammonia oxidizers, rather than archaeal ammonia oxidizers, which dominate in marine environments. To compare the photoinhibition of bacterial and archaeal ammonia oxidizers, specific growth rates of two ammonia-oxidizing archaea (Nitrosopumilus maritimus and Nitrosotalea devanaterra) and bacteria (Nitrosomonas europaea and Nitrosospira multiformis) were determined at different light intensities under continuous illumination and light/dark cycles. All strains were inhibited by continuous illumination at the highest intensity (500 similar to mu E similar to m-2 similar to s-1). At lower light intensities, archaeal growth was much more photosensitive than bacterial growth, with greater inhibition at 60 similar to mu E similar to m-2 similar to s-1 than at 15 similar to mu E similar to m-2 similar to s-1, where bacteria were unaffected. Archaeal ammonia oxidizers were also more sensitive to cycles of 8-h light/16-h darkness at two light intensities (60 and 15 similar to mu E similar to m-2 similar to s-1) and, unlike bacterial strains, showed no evidence of recovery during dark phases. The findings provide evidence for niche differentiation in aquatic environments and reduce support for photoinhibition as an explanation of nitrite maxima in the ocean.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)41-46
Number of pages6
JournalFEMS Microbiology Letters
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2012


  • nitrification
  • thaumarchaea
  • ammonia oxidizers
  • photoinhibition
  • primary nitrite maximum
  • stream
  • marine nitrifying bacteria
  • nitrosomonas-Europaea
  • oxidizing archaea
  • light
  • crenarchaeota
  • recovery
  • soil
  • phytoplankton


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