Structure of greenhouse gas-consuming microbial communities in surface soils of a nitrogen-removing experimental drainfield

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Septic systems represent a source of greenhouse gases generated by microbial processes as wastewater constituents are degraded. Both aerobic and anerobic wastewater transformation processes can generate nitrous oxide and methane, both of which are potent greenhouse gases (GHGs). To understand how microbial communities in the surface soils above shallow drainfields contribute to methane and nitrous oxide consumption, we measured greenhouse gas surface flux and below-ground concentrations and compared them to the microbial communities present using functional genes pmoA and nosZ. These genes encode portions of particulate methane monooxygenase and nitrous oxide reductase, respectively, serving as a potential sink for the respective greenhouse gases. We assessed the surface soils above three drainfields served by a single household: an experimental layered passive N-reducing drainfield, a control conventional drainfield, and a reserve drainfield not in use but otherwise identical to the control. We found that neither GHG flux, below-ground concentration or soil properties varied among drainfield types, nor did methane oxidizing and nitrous oxide reducing communities vary by drainfield type. We found differences in pmoA and nosZ communities based on depth from the soil surface, and differences in nosZ communities based on whether the sample came from the rhizosphere or surrounding bulk soils. Type I methanotrophs (Gammaproteobacteria) were more abundant in the upper and middle portions of the soil above the drainfield. In general, we found no relationship in community composition for either gene based on GHG flux or below-ground concentration or soil properties (bulk density, organic matter, above-ground biomass). This is the first study to assess these communities in the surface soils above an experimental working drainfield, and more research is needed to understand the dynamics of greenhouse gas production and consumption in these systems.

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Science of the Total Environment