Peatland vascular plant functional types affect methane dynamics by altering microbial community structure

Bjorn J.M. Robroek*, Vincent E.J. Jassey, Martine A.R. Kox, Roeland L. Berendsen, Robert T.E. Mills, Lauric Cécillon, Jérémy Puissant, Marion Meima-Franke, Peter A.H.M. Bakker, Paul L.E. Bodelier

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Peatlands are natural sources of atmospheric methane (CH4), an important greenhouse gas. It is established that peatland methane dynamics are controlled by both biotic and abiotic conditions, yet the interactive effect of these drivers is less studied and consequently poorly understood. Climate change affects the distribution of vascular plant functional types (PFTs) in peatlands. By removing specific PFTs, we assessed their effects on peat organic matter chemistry, microbial community composition and on potential methane production (PMP) and oxidation (PMO) in two microhabitats (lawns and hummocks). Whilst PFT removal only marginally altered the peat organic matter chemistry, we observed considerable changes in microbial community structure. This resulted in altered PMP and PMO. PMP was slightly lower when graminoids were removed, whilst PMO was highest in the absence of both vascular PFTs (graminoids and ericoids), but only in the hummocks. Path analyses demonstrate that different plant-soil interactions drive PMP and PMO in peatlands and that changes in biotic and abiotic factors can have auto-amplifying effects on current CH4 dynamics. Synthesis. Changing environmental conditions will, both directly and indirectly, affect peatland processes, causing unforeseen changes in CH4 dynamics. The resilience of peatland CH4 dynamics to environmental change therefore depends on the interaction between plant community composition and microbial communities. Climate change causes shifts in the composition of vascular plant functional types (PFT). Our study highlights that such alterations in PFT composition affects the microbial structure, and to a lesser extent the peat organic chemistry. Such PFT-controlled changes in the peat biotic and abiotic environment, in turn, strongly influence peatland methane dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)925-934
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of ecology
Issue number4
Early online date20 Apr 2015
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 20 Apr 2015


  • pmoA
  • Methane
  • Methanogenesis
  • Methanotrophic communities
  • Mid-infrared spectroscopy
  • Pathway analysis
  • Phospholipid fatty acid
  • Plant-soil (below-ground) interactions
  • Sphagnum-dominated peatlands

Cite this