Wetlands are the largest natural source of methane to the atmosphere, but factors controlling methane emissions from wetlands are a major source of uncertainty in greenhouse gas budgets and projections of future climate change. We conducted a controlled outdoor mesocosm experiment to assess the effects of plant community structure (functional group richness and composition) on potential methane production and potential iron reduction in freshwater emergent marshes. Four plant functional groups (facultative annuals, obligate annuals, reeds, and tussocks) were arranged in a full-factorial design and additional mesocosms were assigned as no-plant controls. Soil samples from the top 10 cm were collected three times during the growing season to determine potential methane production and potential iron reduction (in unamended soils and in soils amended with 200 mM formate). These data were compared to soil organic matter, soil pH, and previously published data on above and belowground plant biomass. We found that functional group richness was less important than the presence of specific functional groups (reeds or tussocks) in mediating potential iron reduction. In our mesocosms, where oxidized iron was abundant and electron donors were limiting, iron reducing bacteria outcompeted methanogens, keeping methane production barely detectable in unamended lab incubations. When the possibility of re-oxidizing iron was eliminated via anaerobic incubations and the electron donor limitation was removed by adding formate, potential methane production increased and followed the same patterns as potential iron reduction. Our findings suggest that in the absence of abundant oxidized iron and/or the presence of abundant electron donors, wetlands dominated by either reeds or tussocks may have increased methane production compared to wetlands dominated by annuals. Depending on functional traits such as plant transport and rhizospheric oxygenation capacities, this could potentially lead to increased methane emissions in some wetlands. Additional research examining the role these plant functional groups play in other aspects of methane dynamics will be useful given the importance of methane as a greenhouse gas.
Natural Resources and the Environment
Ecological Society of America
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Andrews, S.E., Schultz, R., Frey, S.D., Bouchard, V., Varner, R., Ducey, M.J. Plant community structure mediates potential methane production and potential iron reduction in wetland mesocosms. (2013) Ecosphere, 4 (4), art. no. 02, . Doi: 10.1890/ES12-00314.1
Copyright: © 2013 Andrews et al.