Acidification in corn monocultures favor fungi, ammonia oxidizing bacteria, and nirK-denitrifier groups

G. D. Behnke, M. C. Zabaloy, C. W. Riggins, S. Rodríguez-Zas, L. Huang, M. B. Villamil

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Agricultural practices of no-till and crop rotations are critical to counteract the detrimental effects of monocultures and tillage operations on ecosystem services related to soil health such as microbial N cycling. The present study explored the main steps of the microbial N cycle, using targeted gene abundance as a proxy, and concerning soil properties, following 19 and 20 years of crop monocultures and rotations of corn (Zea mays L.), and soybean [Glycine max (L.) Merr.], either under no-till or chisel tillage. Real-time quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) was implemented to estimate phylogenetic groups and functional genes related to the microbial N cycle: nifH (N2 fixation), amoA (nitrification) and nirK, nirS, and nosZ (denitrification). Our results indicate that long-term crop rotation and tillage decisions affect soil health as it relates to soil properties and microbial parameters. No-till management increased soil organic matter (SOM), decreased soil pH, and increased copy numbers of AOB (ammonia oxidizing bacteria). Crop rotations with more corn increased SOM, reduced soil pH, reduced AOA (ammonia oxidizing archaea) copy numbers, and increased AOB and fungal ITS copy numbers. NirK denitrifier groups were also enhanced under continuous corn. Altogether, the more corn years included in a crop rotation multiplies the amount of N needed to sustain yield levels, thereby intensifying the N cycle in these systems, potentially leading to acidification, enhanced bacterial nitrification, and creating an environment primed for N losses and increased N2O emissions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number137514
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Jun 10 2020


  • Crop rotation
  • Denitrification
  • Microbial N cycle
  • Nitrification
  • Nitrogen fixation
  • Soil degradation
  • Soil health
  • Tillage

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Engineering
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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