Fungi mediate nitrous oxide production but not ammonia oxidation in aridland soils of the southwestern US

Yevgeniy Marusenko, David P. Huber, Sharon Hall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

67 Scopus citations


Nitrification and denitrification are key processes that control nitrogen (N) availability and loss in terrestrial systems. Nitrification in soils is thought to be performed primarily by chemoautotrophic prokaryotes such as bacteria and archaea, and denitrification by bacterial heterotrophs. However, recent work in drylands suggests that fungi may play a larger role in N transformations than previously recognized. Arid and semi-arid ecosystems experience extreme temperatures and low moisture conditions, both of which favor growth and survival of some fungi, but the extent of fungal nitrification and denitrification in these soils has not been explored. We investigated the role of fungi in nitrate (NO3-) and nitrous oxide (N2O) production in soils from regions across the southwestern US. Soils were collected from urban and Sonoran Desert sites within the Phoenix metropolitan area in Arizona, and from grasslands in Arizona and New Mexico. Rates of potential nitrification were measured in soils subjected to biocide treatments (fungal and bacterial inhibitors) and acetylene, an inhibitor of autotrophic ammonia oxidation. Nitrous oxide production was measured from soils incubated at two moisture levels in the presence of the biocide treatments. Rates of potential nitrification decreased significantly in all soils with additions of acetylene, indicating that autotrophic microorganisms may dominate ammonia oxidation and NO3- production rather than heterotrophs (e.g., fungi). Similarly, fungi played a minor role in N2O production in urban turfgrass soils that were highly managed with irrigation and fertilizers. In contrast, fungi were major sources of N2O production in desert and semi-arid grassland soils across a range of soil water content. We conclude that fungi are likely responsible for denitrification in aridland soils, and that land-use changes associated with urbanization alter the biotic pathways responsible for N cycling. Fungi are responsible for N2O production in drylands but not managed grass soils. Autotrophic bacteria or archaea control nitrification in dryland and managed soils. These patterns are consistent both under shrub canopies and in spaces between plants. Fungi contribute to N2O flux across variable moisture conditions in arid ecosystems. Land-cover changes associated with urbanization in drylands alter N cycling pathways.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)24-36
Number of pages13
JournalSoil Biology and Biochemistry
StatePublished - Aug 2013


  • Denitrification
  • Fungi
  • Nitrification
  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Nitrous oxide (NO)
  • Urbanization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Soil Science


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