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Nitrification, a key pathway of nitrogen (N) loss from agricultural soils, is performed by ammonia-oxidizing bacteria (AOB) and archaea (AOA). We examined the seasonal dynamics (2 years) of ammonia oxidizer gene abundances across a gradient of soil carbon (C) and N in a semi-arid soil after 8 years of tillage and crop residue treatments. AOB was more dominant than AOA in the surface soil, as AOA were undetected in 96% of samples. Seasonal variation in AOB abundance was related to substrate availability; AOB gene copy numbers increased at the end of the growing season (during summer fallow) following higher concentrations in dissolved organic matter soil water. This suggests increased co-location between AOB and substrate resources in pores still filled with water as the soils dried. AOB was however not statistically related to soil ammonium concentrations, soil water content, rainfall or temperature. Organic matter inputs enhanced AOB abundance independent of seasonal variation. AOB abundance was greatest in autumn and immediately preceding the start of the growing season, and coincided with elevated soil nitrate concentrations. The growth of the AOB population is likely to contribute to increased risk of N loss through leaching and/or denitrification at the start of the crop growing season following summer fallow.
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