Articles | Volume 14, issue 20
Research article
27 Oct 2017
Research article |  | 27 Oct 2017

Contrasting effects of ammonium and nitrate additions on the biomass of soil microbial communities and enzyme activities in subtropical China

Chuang Zhang, Xin-Yu Zhang, Hong-Tao Zou, Liang Kou, Yang Yang, Xue-Fa Wen, Sheng-Gong Li, Hui-Min Wang, and Xiao-Min Sun

Abstract. The nitrate to ammonium ratios in nitrogen (N) compounds in wet atmospheric deposits have increased over the recent past, which is a cause for some concern as the individual effects of nitrate and ammonium deposition on the biomass of different soil microbial communities and enzyme activities are still poorly defined. We established a field experiment and applied ammonium (NH4Cl) and nitrate (NaNO3) at monthly intervals over a period of 4 years. We collected soil samples from the ammonium and nitrate treatments and control plots in three different seasons, namely spring, summer, and fall, to evaluate the how the biomass of different soil microbial communities and enzyme activities responded to the ammonium (NH4Cl) and nitrate (NaNO3) applications. Our results showed that the total contents of phospholipid fatty acids (PLFAs) decreased by 24 and 11 % in the ammonium and nitrate treatments, respectively. The inhibitory effects of ammonium on Gram-positive bacteria (G+) and bacteria, fungi, actinomycetes, and arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF) PLFA contents ranged from 14 to 40 % across the three seasons. We also observed that the absolute activities of C, N, and P hydrolyses and oxidases were inhibited by ammonium and nitrate, but that nitrate had stronger inhibitory effects on the activities of acid phosphatase (AP) than ammonium. The activities of N-acquisition specific enzymes (enzyme activities normalized by total PLFA contents) were about 21 and 43 % lower in the ammonium and nitrate treatments than in the control, respectively. However, the activities of P-acquisition specific enzymes were about 19 % higher in the ammonium treatment than in the control. Using redundancy analysis (RDA), we found that the measured C, N, and P hydrolysis and polyphenol oxidase (PPO) activities were positively correlated with the soil pH and ammonium contents, but were negatively correlated with the nitrate contents. The PLFA biomarker contents were positively correlated with soil pH, soil organic carbon (SOC), and total N contents, but were negatively correlated with the ammonium contents. The soil enzyme activities varied seasonally, and were highest in March and lowest in October. In contrast, the contents of the microbial PLFA biomarkers were higher in October than in March and June. Ammonium may inhibit the contents of PLFA biomarkers more strongly than nitrate because of acidification. This study has provided useful information about the effects of ammonium and nitrate on soil microbial communities and enzyme activities.

Short summary
Ammonium additions had stronger inhibition effects on soil microbial biomass of different communities than nitrate addition. However, inhibition effects of nitrate additions on P hydrolase were stronger than ammonium additions, but not on C- and N-hydrolase and oxidase. Ammonium additions decreased N-acquisition specific enzyme activities normalized by total microbial biomass, but increased P-acquisition specific enzyme activities. Different effects on soil pH may explain the different effects.
Final-revised paper