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Global prevalence of methane oxidation by symbiotic bacteria in peat-moss ecosystems


Peat bogs store up to a third of all terrestrial carbon on Earth1, and are one of the largest natural sources of atmospheric methane2. Anaerobic degradation of submerged Sphagnum species—mosses that are prevalent in peat bogs across the globe—produces significant quantities of methane in these systems. However, a study on peat mosses in the Netherlands revealed that a large fraction of this methane is consumed by aerobic methane-oxidizing bacteria, known as methanotrophs3; in return, the methanotrophs provide Sphagnum mosses with carbon3. Here, we show that Sphagnum-associated methane oxidation occurs ubiquitously across the globe. We collected Sphagnum mosses from pools, lawns and hummocks in nine Sphagnum-dominated peatlands across the world, and measured their capacity to oxidize methane in a series of laboratory incubations. All mosses were capable of oxidizing methane. The rate of methane oxidation increased with temperature, and was most pronounced in submerged mosses, collected from peatland pools. According to DNA microarray analyses, the methanotrophic community responsible for methane oxidation was highly diverse. 13C labelling revealed that methane-derived carbon was incorporated into plant lipids when mosses were submerged, indicative of a mutually beneficial symbiosis between mosses and methanotrophs. Our findings suggest that the interaction between methanotrophs and Sphagnum mosses may play a role in carbon recycling in waterlogged Sphagnum vegetation, potentially reducing methane emissions.

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Figure 1: Initial methane oxidation rates of Sphagnum mosses.
Figure 2: Methane-derived 13C incorporation into bacterial and Sphagnum lipids.
Figure 3: Representation of the pmoA-based microbial methanotrophic community analysis microarray.


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We thank P. Wijnhoven and S. Schouten for technical assistance. C. Fritz, L. Lamers, J. van Huissteden, F. Keuper, T. Moore, N. Filippov and W. Bleuten provided Sphagnum species from different locations. N.K. and J.F.v.W. were partially supported by a grant (142.16.1060) provided by the Darwin Centre for Biogeosciences.

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N.K. carried out methane oxidation measurements. J.F.v.W. analysed 13C-labelled biomarkers. Y.P., L.B. and N.K. carried out the microarray experiment and analysis. The research was conceived by M.S.M.J., J.S.S.D., H.J.M.O.d.C. and G-J.R. N.K., J.F.v.W., A.J.P.S., M.S.M.J., J.S.S.D., H.J.M.O.d.C, L.B. and G-J.R. contributed to interpreting the data and writing the paper.

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Correspondence to Huub J. M. Op den Camp.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kip, N., van Winden, J., Pan, Y. et al. Global prevalence of methane oxidation by symbiotic bacteria in peat-moss ecosystems. Nature Geosci 3, 617–621 (2010).

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