Widmer, F., B.T. Shaffer, L.A. Porteous, and Ramon J. Seidler. 1999. Analysis of nifH gene pool complexity in soil and litter at a Douglas Fir forest site in the Oregon Cascade mountain range. Applied and Environmental Microbiology 65(2):374-380.
Nitrogen-fixing microbial populations in a Douglas fir forest on the western slope of the Oregon Cascade Mountain Range were analyzed. The complexity of the nifH gene pool (nifH is the marker gene which encodes nitrogenase reductase) was assessed by performing nested PCR with bulk DNA extracted from plant litter and soil. The restriction fragment length polymorphisms (RFLPs) of PCR products obtained from litter were reproducibly different than the RFLPs of PCR products obtained from the underlying soil. The characteristic differences were found during the entire sampling period between May and September. RFLP analyses of cloned nifH PCR products also revealed characteristic patterns for each sample type. Among 42 nifH clones obtained from a forest litter library nine different RFLP patterns were found, and among 64 nifH clones obtained from forest soil libraries 13 different patterns were found. Only two of the patterns were found in both the litter and the soil, indicating that there were major differences between the nitrogen-fixing microbial populations. A sequence analysis of clones representing the 20 distinct patterns revealed that 19 of the patterns had a proteobacterial origin. All of the nifH sequences obtained from the Douglas fir forest litter localized in a distinct phylogenetic cluster characterized by the nifH sequences of members of the general Rhizobium, sinorhizobium, and Azospirillum. The nifH sequences obtained from soil were found in two additional clusters, one characterized by sequences of members of the genera Bradyrhizobium, Azorhizobium, Herbaspirillum, and Thiobacillus and the other, represented by a single nifH clone, located between the gram-positive bacteria and the cyanobacteria. Our results revealed the distinctness of the nitrogen-fixing microbial populations in litter and soil in a Douglas fir forest; the differences may be related to special requirements for degradation and mineralization processes in the plant litter.