Nitrogen limitation and nitrogen fixation during alkane biodegradation in a sandy soil

P. L. Toccalino, R. L. Johnson, D. R. Boone

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22 Scopus citations


We investigated nutrient limitations during hydrocarbon degradation in a sandy soil and found that fixed nitrogen was initially a limiting nutrient but that N limitation could sometimes be overcome by N2 fixation. Hydrocarbon biodegradation was examined in an unsaturated sandy soil incubated aerobically at 20°C with propane or butane and various added nutrients. Propane and butane degradation proceeded similarly during the first 3 months of incubation. That is, bacteria in soil amended with N oxidized these hydrocarbons more rapidly than in controls without nutrient additions or in soil with added phosphate or trace minerals. Both propane- and butane-amended soil apparently became N limited after the initial available inorganic N was utilized, as indicated by a decrease in the rates of hydrocarbon degradation. After 3 months, propane and butane degradation proceeded differently. Bacteria in propane-degrading soil apparently remained N limited because propane degradation rates stayed low unless more N was added. In contrast, bacteria in butane-degrading soil appeared to overcome their N limitation because butane degradation rates later increased regardless of whether more N was added. Analyses of total N and acetylene reduction assays supported this apparent surplus of N in butane-amended soil. Total N was significantly (P < 0.01) higher in soil incubated with butane and no N amendments than in soil incubated with propane, even when the latter was amended with N. Acetylene reduction occurred only in butane-amended soil. These results indicate that N2 fixation occurred in butane-amended soil but not in propane-amended soil.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2977-2983
Number of pages7
JournalApplied and Environmental Microbiology
Issue number9
StatePublished - 1993

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Food Science
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • Ecology


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