Microbial drivers of methane emissions

Wetlands are important carbon (C) sinks, yet many have been destroyed and converted to other uses over the past few centuries, including industrial salt making. A renewed focus on wetland ecosystem services (e.g., flood control, and habitat) has resulted in numerous restoration efforts whose effect on microbial communities is largely unexplored. We investigated the impact of restoration on microbial community composition, metabolic functional potential, and methane flux by analyzing sediment cores from two unrestored former industrial salt ponds, a restored former industrial salt pond, and a reference wetland. We observed elevated methane emissions from unrestored salt ponds compared to the restored and reference wetlands, which was positively correlated with salinity and sulfate across all samples.

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Fig: Biogeochemistry of sampled sites: Variation of salinity (Cl) (a), sulfate (b), inorganic N:P ratio (c), and methane fluxes (d) in restored/unrestored salt ponds and reference wetland. Methane fluxes were positively correlated with salinity (e), sulfate (f), and inorganic N:P ratio (g) and negatively correlated with C:N ratios (h). Note the change in the y-axis scale in panels (a−d) and the logarithmic scale in panels (e−h). Different letters delineate significant pairwise comparisons (Nemenyi posthoc, P < 0.05).

16S rRNA gene amplicon and shotgun metagenomic data revealed that the restored salt pond harbored communities more phylogenetically and functionally similar to the reference wetland than to unrestored ponds. Archaeal methanogenesis genes were positively correlated with methane flux, as were genes encoding enzymes for bacterial methylphosphonate degradation, suggesting methane is generated both from bacterial methylphosphonate degradation and archaeal methanogenesis in these sites. These observations demonstrate that restoration effectively converted industrial salt pond microbial communities back to compositions more similar to reference wetlands and lowered salinities, sulfate concentrations, and methane emissions.

Zhou, J., Theroux, S.M., Bueno de Mesquita, C.P. et al. Microbial drivers of methane emissions from unrestored industrial salt ponds. ISME J(2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41396-021-01067-w

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