Soil Bacterial and Archaeal Communities and Their Potential to Perform N-Cycling Processes in Soils of Boreal Forests Growing on Well-Drained Peat

Marika Truu*, Hiie Nõlvak, Ivika Ostonen, Kristjan Oopkaup, Martin Maddison, Teele Ligi, Mikk Espenberg, Veiko Uri, Ülo Mander, Jaak Truu

*Corresponding author for this work

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14 Citations (Scopus)
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Peatlands are unique wetland ecosystems that cover approximately 3% of the world’s land area and are mostly located in boreal and temperate regions. Around 15 Mha of these peatlands have been drained for forestry during the last century. This study investigated soil archaeal and bacterial community structure and abundance, as well as the abundance of marker genes of nitrogen transformation processes (nitrogen fixation, nitrification, denitrification, and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonia) across distance gradients from drainage ditches in nine full-drained, middle-aged peatland forests dominated by Scots pine, Norway spruce, or Downy birch. The dominating tree species had a strong effect on the chemical properties (pH, N and C/N status) of initially similar Histosols and affected the bacterial and archaeal community structure and abundance of microbial groups involved in the soil nitrogen cycle. The pine forests were distinguished by having the lowest fine root biomass of trees, pH, and N content and the highest potential for N fixation. The distance from drainage ditches affected the spatial distribution of bacterial and archaeal communities (especially N-fixers, nitrifiers, and denitrifiers possessing nosZ clade II), but this effect was often dependent on the conditions created by the dominance of certain tree species. The composition of the nitrifying microbial community was dependent on the soil pH, and comammox bacteria contributed significantly to nitrate formation in the birch and spruce soils where the pH was higher than 4.6. The highest N2O emission was recorded from soils with higher bacterial and archaeal phylogenetic diversity such as birch forest soils. This study demonstrates that the long-term growth of forests dominated by birch, pine, and spruce on initially similar organic soil has resulted in tree-species-specific changes in the soil properties and the development of forest-type-specific soil prokaryotic communities with characteristic functional properties and relationships within microbial communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number591358
Number of pages22
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 3 Dec 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by the Estonian Forest Management Centre, the Estonian Research Council grants PRG548, PRG916, and PRG352, WaterJPI-JC-2018_13 project, and Centres of Excellence Environ and EcolChange.

Data Availability Statement

The datasets presented in this study can be found in online repositories. The names of the repository/repositories and accession number(s) can be found below:, PRJEB38904.


  • drained peatland forests
  • N-cycling genes
  • nitrogen gas emission
  • plant root biomass
  • soil prokaryotic community


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