Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Department of


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Nature Geoscience 5 (2012), pp. 538–541; doi: 10.1038/ngeo1530


Copyright © 2012 Macmillan Publishers Limited. Used by permission.


The oxidation of ammonium is a key step in the nitrogen cycle, regulating the production of nitrate, nitrous oxide and dinitrogen. In marine and freshwater ecosystems, anaerobic ammonium oxidation coupled to nitrite reduction, termed anammox, accounts for up to 67% of dinitrogen production. Dinitrogen production through anaerobic ammonium oxidation has not been observed in terrestrial ecosystems, but the anaerobic oxidation of ammonium to nitrite has been observed in wetland soils under iron-reducing conditions. Here, we incubate tropical upland soil slurries with isotopically labelled ammonium and iron(iii) to assess the potential for anaerobic ammonium oxidation coupled to iron(iii) reduction, otherwise known as Feammox, in these soils. We show that Feammox can produce dinitrogen, nitrite or nitrate in tropical upland soils. Direct dinitrogen production was the dominant Feammox pathway, short-circuiting the nitrogen cycle and resulting in ecosystem nitrogen losses. Rates were comparable to aerobic nitrification and to denitrification, the latter being the only other process known to produce dinitrogen in terrestrial ecosystems. We suggest that Feammox could fuel nitrogen losses in ecosystems rich in poorly crystalline iron minerals, with low or fluctuating redox conditions.

Includes Supplementary Information.