Molecular and Dual-Isotopic Profiling of the Microbial Controls on Nitrogen Leaching in Agricultural Soils under Managed Aquifer Recharge

Laibin Huang, Elad Levintal, Christian Bernard Erikson, Adolfo Coyotl, William R. Horwath, Helen E. Dahlke, Jorge L. Mazza Rodrigues

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Nitrate (NO3-) leaching is a serious health and ecological concern in global agroecosystems, particularly those under the application of agricultural-managed aquifer recharge (Ag-MAR); however, there is an absence of information on microbial controls affecting NO3- leaching outcomes. We combine natural dual isotopes of NO3- (15N/14N and 18O/16O) with metagenomics, quantitative polymerase chain reaction (PCR), and a threshold indicator taxa analysis (TITAN) to investigate the activities, taxon profiles, and environmental controls of soil microbiome associated with NO3- leaching at different depths from Californian vineyards under Ag-MAR application. The isotopic signatures demonstrated a significant priming effect (P < 0.01) of Ag-MAR on denitrification activities in the topsoil (0-10 cm), with a 12-25-fold increase of 15N-NO3- and 18O-NO3- after the first 24 h of flooding, followed by a sharp decrease in the enrichment of both isotopes with ∼80% decline in denitrification activities thereafter. In contrast, deeper soils (60-100 cm) showed minimal or no denitrification activities over the course of Ag-MAR application, thus resulting in 10-20-fold of residual NO3- being leached. Metagenomic profiling and laboratory microcosm demonstrated that both nitrifying and denitrifying groups, responsible for controlling NO3- leaching, decreased in abundance and potential activity rates with soil depth. TITAN suggested that Nitrosocosmicus and Bradyrhizobium, as the major nitrifier and denitrifier, had the highest and lowest tipping points with regard to the NO3- changes (P < 0.05), respectively. Overall, our study provides new insight into specific depth limitations of microbial controls on soil NO3- leaching in agroecosystems.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)11084-11095
Number of pages12
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number30
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • NO leaching
  • denitrification
  • dual isotopes
  • metagenome
  • nitrification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Chemistry (all)
  • Environmental Chemistry


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