Growth and Production of Litter-Associated Bacteria

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Book Chapter

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Biological, Environmental, and Earth Sciences


Bacterial secondary production (BSP) can be a significant fraction of total microbial production associated with decomposing litter in aquatic environments. Quantifying production rates is hence important for addressing many ecological questions. This chapter describes a method for estimating rates of bacterial production and growth rates by measuring the incorporation of [3H]leucine into bacterial protein. Decomposing plant litter is incubated with [3H]leucine for a given time, typically 30 min. Leucine incorporation is stopped by adding trichloroacetic acid and the resulting precipitated protein is extracted, successively washed, and collected on a membrane filter. The partially purified protein adhering to the filter and residual litter are combined, and the protein is dissolved in hot alkaline solution and radioassayed. Bacterial production is calculated as the amount of bacterial biomass produced per gram of plant litter dry mass, ash-free dry mass or carbon per unit time, or per stream, marsh or soil surface area if the amount of litter per square metre is known. In conjunction with estimates of bacterial biomass, BSP also allows calculating bacterial growth rate as another key variable describing bacterial population dynamics on decomposing litter.

Publication Title

Methods to Study Litter Decomposition

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