Methane is a potent greenhouse gas1. Methane concentrations above neotropical forests—the tropical forests found in Mexico, Central America, South America and the Caribbean—are high according to space-borne observations. However, the source of the methane is uncertain2,3. Here, we measure methane fluxes from tank bromeliads—a common group of herbaceous plants in neotropical forests that collect water in tank-like structures—using vented static chambers. We sampled 167 bromeliads in the Ecuadorian Andes, and found that all of them emitted methane. We found a diverse community of methane-producing archaea within the water-containing tanks, suggesting that the tanks served as the source of the methane. Indeed, tank water was supersaturated with methane, and 13C-labelled methane added to tank water was emitted though the leaves. We suggest that the bromeliad tanks form a wetland environment conducive to methane production. In conjunction with other wetlands hidden beneath the copy surface, bromeliads may help to explain the inexplicably high methane levels observed over neotropical forests.
Subscribe to Journal
Get full journal access for 1 year
only $14.08 per issue
All prices are NET prices.
VAT will be added later in the checkout.
Rent or Buy article
Get time limited or full article access on ReadCube.
All prices are NET prices.
Shindell, D. T. et al. Improved attribution of climate forcing to emissions. Science 326, 716–718 (2009).
Frankenberg, C. et al. Tropical methane emissions: A revised view from SCIAMACHY onboard ENVISAT. Geophys. Res. Lett. 35, doi:10.1029/2008GL034300 (2008).
do Carmo, J. B., Keller, M., Dias, J. D., de Camargo, P. B. & Crill, P. A source of methane from upland forests in the Brazilian Amazon. Geophys. Res. Lett. 33, doi:10.1029/2005GL025436 (2006).
Keppler, F., Hamilton, J. T. G., Brass, M. & Rockmann, T. Methane emissions from terrestrial plants under aerobic conditions. Nature 439, 187–191 (2006).
Keppler, F. Aerobic methane formation in plants. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 73, A641–A641 (2009).
Prather, M. et al. in Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Contribution of Working Group I to the Third Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (eds Houghton, J. T. et al.) (Cambridge University Press, 2001).
Conrad, R. The global methane cycle: Recent advances in understanding the microbial processes involved [Minireview]. Environ. Microbiol. Rep. 1, 285–292 (2009).
Melack, J. M. & Hess, L. L. in Amazonian Floodplain Forests: Ecophysiology, Ecology, Biodiversity and Sustainable Management (eds Junk, W. J. &Piedade, M.) (Springer, 2009).
Megonigal, J. P. & Guenther, A. B. Methane emissions from upland forest soils and vegetation. Tree Physiol. 28, 491–498 (2008).
Keppler, F. et al. Methoxyl groups of plant pectin as a precursor of atmospheric methane: Evidence from deuterium labelling studies. New Phytol. 178, 808–814 (2008).
Conrad, R., Klose, M., Noll, M., Kemnitz, D. & Bodelier, P. L. E. Soil type links microbial colonization of rice roots to methane emission. Glob. Change Biol. 14, 657–669 (2008).
Conrad, R., Klose, M., Claus, P. & Enrich-Prast, A. Methanogenic pathway, 13C isotope fractionation, and archaeal community composition in the sediment of two clearwater lakes of Amazonia. Limnol. Oceanogr. 55, 689–702 (2010).
Armstrong, W. Aeration in higher plants. Adv. Bot. Res. 7, 225–332 (1979).
Grosse, W., Buchel, H. B. & Tiebel, H. Pressurized ventilation in wetland plants. Aquat. Bot. 39, 89–98 (1991).
Schütz, H., Schröder, P. & Rennenberg, H. in Trace Gas Emissions by Plants (eds Sharkey, T. D., Holland, E. A. & Mooney, H. A.) (Academic Press, 1991).
Benzing, D. H. Bromeliaceae: Profile of an Adaptive Radiation (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Benzing, D. H., Givnish, T. J. & Bermudes, D. Absorptive trichomes in Brochinia reducta (Bromeliaceae) and their evolutionary and systematic significance. Syst. Bot. 10, 81–91 (1985).
Pierce, S., Maxwell, K., Griffiths, H. & Winter, K. Hydrophobic trichome layers and epicuticular wax powders in Bromeliaceae. Am. J. Bot. 88, 1371–1389 (2001).
Tomlinson, P. B. Anatomy of the Monocotyledons. III. Commelinales—Zingiberales (Clarendon Press, 1969).
Sugden, A. M. & Robins, R. J. Aspects of the ecology of vascular epiphytes in Colombian cloud forests.1. Distribution of the epiphytic flora. Biotropica 11, 173–188 (1979).
Dutaur, L. & Verchot, L. V. A global inventory of the soil CH4 sink. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 21, 9 (2007).
Purbopuspito, J., Veldkamp, E., Brumme, R. & Murdiyarso, D. Trace gas fluxes and nitrogen cycling along an elevation sequence of tropical montane forests in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia. Glob. Biogeochem. Cycles 20, 11 (2006).
Gragson, T. L. Fishing the waters of amazonia—native subsistence economies in a tropical rain-forest. Am. Anthropol. 94, 428–440 (1992).
Nisbet, R. E. R. et al. Emission of methane from plants. Proc. R. Soc. B 276, 1347–1354 (2009).
Kitching, R. L. Food Webs and Container Habitats (Cambridge University Press, 2000).
Loftfield, N., Flessa, H., Augustin, J. & Beese, F. Automated gas chromatographic system for rapid analysis of the atmospheric trace gases methane, carbon dioxide, and nitrous oxide. J. Environ. Qual. 26, 560–564 (1997).
Wu, X. L., Friedrich, M. W. & Conrad, R. Diversity and ubiquity of thermophilic methanogenic archaea in temperate anoxic soils. Environ. Microbiol. 8, 394–404 (2006).
We thank R. Samaniego, R. Arias, A. Macas and F. Cuenca for excellent field and laboratory assistance. M. Richter, T. Peters and R. Rollenbeck provided the climate data. We especially thank P. Claus from the Max-Planck-Institute for Terrestrial Microbiology for GC-C-IRMS analysis. M. Schwertfeger from the Botanical Garden in Göttingen University kindly provided tank bromeliads for the tracer experiment. This study was supported by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (Ve219/8-1, Gr1588/10) as part of subprojects A2.4 and A2.5 of the research unit ‘Biodiversity and sustainable management of a megadiverse mountain ecosystem in southern Ecuador’ (FOR 816).
The authors declare no competing financial interests.
About this article
Cite this article
Martinson, G., Werner, F., Scherber, C. et al. Methane emissions from tank bromeliads in neotropical forests. Nature Geosci 3, 766–769 (2010). https://doi.org/10.1038/ngeo980
Ecology and Evolution (2019)
Structure, function and resilience to desiccation of methanogenic microbial communities in temporarily inundated soils of the Amazon rainforest (Cunia Reserve, Rondonia)
Environmental Microbiology (2019)
Scientific Reports (2019)