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Methane fluxes show consistent temperature dependence across microbial to ecosystem scales



Methane (CH4) is an important greenhouse gas because it has 25 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide (CO2) by mass over a century1. Recent calculations suggest that atmospheric CH4 emissions have been responsible for approximately 20% of Earth’s warming since pre-industrial times2. Understanding how CH4 emissions from ecosystems will respond to expected increases in global temperature is therefore fundamental to predicting whether the carbon cycle will mitigate or accelerate climate change. Methanogenesis is the terminal step in the remineralization of organic matter and is carried out by strictly anaerobic Archaea3. Like most other forms of metabolism, methanogenesis is temperature-dependent4,5. However, it is not yet known how this physiological response combines with other biotic processes (for example, methanotrophy6, substrate supply3,7, microbial community composition8) and abiotic processes (for example, water-table depth9,10) to determine the temperature dependence of ecosystem-level CH4 emissions. It is also not known whether CH4 emissions at the ecosystem level have a fundamentally different temperature dependence than other key fluxes in the carbon cycle, such as photosynthesis and respiration. Here we use meta-analyses to show that seasonal variations in CH4 emissions from a wide range of ecosystems exhibit an average temperature dependence similar to that of CH4 production derived from pure cultures of methanogens and anaerobic microbial communities. This average temperature dependence (0.96 electron volts (eV)), which corresponds to a 57-fold increase between 0 and 30°C, is considerably higher than previously observed for respiration (approximately 0.65 eV)11 and photosynthesis (approximately 0.3 eV)12. As a result, we show that both the emission of CH4 and the ratio of CH4 to CO2 emissions increase markedly with seasonal increases in temperature. Our findings suggest that global warming may have a large impact on the relative contributions of CO2 and CH4 to total greenhouse gas emissions from aquatic ecosystems, terrestrial wetlands and rice paddies.

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Figure 1: Temperature dependence of CH4 production and related processes at population and community levels.
Figure 2: Temperature dependence of CH4 emissions at the ecosystem level.
Figure 3: Temperature dependence of the CH4:CO2 emission ratio.


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We thank M. Trimmer for early discussions that inspired much of this work, as well as P. Cox and T. Lenton for comments on earlier drafts of the manuscript.

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Authors and Affiliations



G.Y.-D., D.B. and C.G. had initial discussions. G.Y.-D. conceived the study, analysed the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. D.B., P.A.d.G., C.G., N.T.-D., R.C. and A.S. contributed original data. A.P.A. wrote the theory for the CH4:CO2 temperature dependence. All authors contributed to revisions of the manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Gabriel Yvon-Durocher.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

Extended data figures and tables

Extended Data Figure 1 Global distribution of the field sites included in our analysis of ecosystem-level CH4 emissions.

The size of each point relates to the logarithm (base 10) of the mean rate of CH4 emission (mg CH4 per m2 per day) over the duration of the experiment.

Extended Data Figure 2 Correlations of average site temperatures with average CH4 emissions and CH4 emissions at fixed temperature for globally distributed ecosystems.

Average CH4 emissions are shown in ac, and CH4 emissions at fixed temperature are shown in df. Average site temperature is positively correlated with average CH4 emissions, , for aquatic ecosystems (a) and natural wetlands (b), although temperature explains only 12% and 9% of the variance, respectively, for CH4 emissions from these two ecosystem types. In contrast, it is not significantly correlated with average CH4 emissions for rice paddies (c). Average site temperature is also not correlated with CH4 emissions at fixed temperature, (where is the average temperature across the field emissions data set (15.6 °C)), for aquatic ecosystems (d) and rice paddies (f), but is significantly negatively correlated for natural wetlands (e). The latter finding suggests that temperature-dependent biotic (for example, methanotrophy, substrate supply, microbial community structure, physiological acclimation and/or adaptation) and abiotic factors (for example, water-table depth) may play an important role in constraining variation in total CH4 emissions among wetlands along geographic temperature gradients.

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Yvon-Durocher, G., Allen, A., Bastviken, D. et al. Methane fluxes show consistent temperature dependence across microbial to ecosystem scales. Nature 507, 488–491 (2014).

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