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Methane emissions from tank bromeliads in neotropical forests


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.

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Figure 1: Three functional types of bromeliad.
Figure 2: Methane emissions from the three functional types of bromeliad in relation to bromeliad tank diameters.


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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).

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G.O.M. and F.A.W. contributed equally to the manuscript. They established project design, conducted field work, analysed data and wrote major portions of the manuscript. C.S. directed the statistical analyses and contributed significantly to the manuscript. R.C. and M.K. determined the methanogenic archaea community. R.C. supervised G.O.M. on the methanogen analysis and wrote parts of the manuscript. E.V. was the principal investigator (PI), main supervisor of G.O.M., and wrote parts of the manuscript. M.D.C. contributed significantly to the data analysis and review of the manuscript. H.F. was a co-PI, second supervisor of G.O.M., and supervised experimental field work. K.W. contributed to the method development and assisted G.O.M. and F.A.W. during field work. S.R.G. was a co-PI. All authors discussed the results and commented on the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Edzo Veldkamp.

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Martinson, G., Werner, F., Scherber, C. et al. Methane emissions from tank bromeliads in neotropical forests. Nature Geosci 3, 766–769 (2010).

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