Brewer, P. E., F. Calderón, M. Vigil, and J. C. von Fischer. 2018. Impacts of moisture, soil respiration, and agricultural practices on methanogenesis in upland soils as measured with stable isotope pool dilution. Soil Biology and Biochemistry 127:239-251.
Anoxic microsites can alter the habitat of upland soils and host diverse anaerobic processes that affect greenhouse gas production, nitrogen dynamics, and biodiversity. Microsites that are methanogenic indicate deeply reducing conditions that may have especially strong impacts on soil function. However, there have not been controlled studies to determine the regulators of methanogenic microsite formation or persistence and most studies have been limited to tropical or high organic matter soils. We hypothesized that upland methanogenesis, as an indicator of anaerobic activity, is primarily affected by soil moisture and organic matter. To test this hypothesis, we examined relationships between soil properties, rates of methanogenesis, and biogeochemical responses in an incubation experiment that manipulated soil source (semi-arid and mesic ecosystems), agricultural practice (conventional, no-till, and organic), and moisture (10%–95% water-filled porespace) of intact soil cores. Methanogenesis was correlated with factors related to both increased O2 demand (e.g., soil respiration) and decreased O2 diffusion (e.g., water-filled porespace), and the relative importance of these different mechanisms changed over four months. While the highest rates of methanogenesis occurred above 75% water-filled porespace, we observed methanogenesis over the full range of soil moistures. These are the driest soils shown to host methanogenesis, outside of biological soil crusts. Cores from plots with organic amendments had the highest rates of methanogenesis. Comparisons of methanogenesis and N-cycling revealed new relationships in upland soils: stronger methanogenesis was associated with more soil NH4+ and higher N2O emissions but less NO3−, likely due to reduced conditions causing increased denitrification and/or decreased nitrification. Our findings show that upland methanogenesis can arise from either increased O2 demand or decreased O2 diffusion, similar to wetland ecosystems, and that the presence of anoxic microsites appears to alter N-cycling. The current paradigm is that upland anaerobicity is generally a minor or moisture-related event, but we demonstrate here that it can be persistent, occur across the full range of soil moisture, and may result in significant impacts on nutrient availability. These and other anaerobic impacts on soil function and biodiversity may occur over the entire landscape of temperate ecosystems.
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