Nature 436, 1153-1156 (25 August 2005) | doi:10.1038/nature03802; Received 23 December 2004; Accepted 9 May 2005

Methanotrophic symbionts provide carbon for photosynthesis in peat bogs

Ashna A. Raghoebarsing1, Alfons J. P. Smolders2, Markus C. Schmid1, W. Irene C. Rijpstra4, Mieke Wolters-Arts3, Jan Derksen3, Mike S. M. Jetten1, Stefan Schouten4, Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté4, Leon P. M. Lamers2, Jan G. M. Roelofs2, Huub J. M. Op den Camp1 & Marc Strous1

  1. Department of Microbiology,
  2. Department of Aquatic Ecology and Environmental Biology, and
  3. Department of Plant Cell Biology, Radboud University Nijmegen, Toernooiveld 1, 6525 ED Nijmegen, The Netherlands
  4. Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ), Department of Marine Biogeochemistry and Toxicology, PO Box 59, 1790 AB Den Burg, The Netherlands

Correspondence to: Alfons J. P. Smolders2Jaap S. Sinninghe Damsté4 Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to A.J.P.S. (Email: a.smolders@science.ru.nl) or J.S.S.D. (Email: damste@nioz.nl).

Wetlands are the largest natural source of atmospheric methane1, the second most important greenhouse gas2. Methane flux to the atmosphere depends strongly on the climate3; however, by far the largest part of the methane formed in wetland ecosystems is recycled and does not reach the atmosphere4, 5. The biogeochemical controls on the efficient oxidation of methane are still poorly understood. Here we show that submerged Sphagnum mosses, the dominant plants in some of these habitats, consume methane through symbiosis with partly endophytic methanotrophic bacteria, leading to highly effective in situ methane recycling. Molecular probes revealed the presence of the bacteria in the hyaline cells of the plant and on stem leaves. Incubation with 13C-methane showed rapid in situ oxidation by these bacteria to carbon dioxide, which was subsequently fixed by Sphagnum, as shown by incorporation of 13C-methane into plant sterols. In this way, methane acts as a significant (10–15%) carbon source for Sphagnum. The symbiosis explains both the efficient recycling of methane and the high organic carbon burial in these wetland ecosystems.


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