Soil nitrate reducing processes: drivers, mechanisms for spatial variation, and significance for nitrous oxide production

Madeline Giles, Nicholas Morley, Elizabeth M Baggs, Tim J Daniell

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The microbial processes of denitrification and dissimilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium (DNRA) are two important nitrate reducing mechanisms in soil, which are responsible for the loss of nitrate ([Formula: see text]) and production of the potent greenhouse gas, nitrous oxide (N(2)O). A number of factors are known to control these processes, including O(2) concentrations and moisture content, N, C, pH, and the size and community structure of nitrate reducing organisms responsible for the processes. There is an increasing understanding associated with many of these controls on flux through the nitrogen cycle in soil systems. However, there remains uncertainty about how the nitrate reducing communities are linked to environmental variables and the flux of products from these processes. The high spatial variability of environmental controls and microbial communities across small sub centimeter areas of soil may prove to be critical in determining why an understanding of the links between biotic and abiotic controls has proved elusive. This spatial effect is often overlooked as a driver of nitrate reducing processes. An increased knowledge of the effects of spatial heterogeneity in soil on nitrate reduction processes will be fundamental in understanding the drivers, location, and potential for N(2)O production from soils.

Original languageEnglish
Article number407
Number of pages16
JournalFrontiers in Microbiology
Publication statusPublished - 18 Dec 2012

Bibliographical note

This work was supported with a NERC CASE studentship grant. The James Hutton Institute is financially supported by the Scottish Government Rural and Environment Science and Analytical Services Division. We thank both Lionel Dupuy and Roy Neilson, internally to the James Hutton Institute, external reviewers
for helpful comments during review, and Cavan Convery for help with the diagrams.


  • denitrication
  • dissmilatory nitrate reduction to ammonium
  • nitrous oxide
  • functional diversity
  • spatial heterogeneity
  • linkage between community structure and activity


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