The ratio of methanogens to methanotrophs and water-level dynamics drive methane transfer velocity in a temperate kettle-hole peat bog
Peatlands are a large source of methane (CH4) to the atmosphere, yet the uncertainty around the estimates of CH4 flux from peatlands is large. To better understand the spatial heterogeneity in temperate peatland CH4 emissions and their response to physical and biological drivers, we studied CH4 dynamics throughout the growing seasons of 2017 and 2018 in Flatiron Lake Bog, a kettle-hole peat bog in Ohio. The site is composed of six different hydro-biological zones: an open water zone, four concentric vegetation zones surrounding the open water, and a restored zone connected to the main bog by a narrow channel. At each of these locations, we monitored water level (WL), CH4 pore-water concentration at different peat depths, CH4 fluxes from the ground and from representative plant species using chambers, and microbial community composition with a focus here on known methanogens and methanotrophs. Integrated CH4 emissions for the growing season were estimated as 315.4±166 mgCH4m-2d-1 in 2017 and 362.3±687 mgCH4m-2d-1 in 2018. Median CH4 emission was highest in the open water, then it decreased and became more variable through the concentric vegetation zones as the WL dropped, with extreme emission hotspots observed in the tamarack mixed woodlands (Tamarack) and low emissions in the restored zone (18.8–30.3 mgCH4m-2d-1). Generally, CH4 flux from above-ground vegetation was negligible compared to ground flux (<0.4 %), although blueberry plants were a small CH4 sink. Pore-water CH4 concentrations varied significantly among zones, with the highest values in the Tamarack zone, close to saturation, and the lowest values in the restored zone. While the CH4 fluxes and pore-water concentrations were not correlated with methanogen relative abundance, the ratio of methanogens to methanotrophs in the upper portion of the peat was significantly correlated to CH4 transfer velocity (the CH4 flux divided by the difference in CH4 pore-water concentration between the top of the peat profile and the concentration in equilibrium with the atmosphere). Since ebullition and plant-mediated transport were not important sources of CH4 and the peat structure and porosity were similar across the different zones in the bog, we conclude that the differences in CH4 transfer velocities, and thus the flux, are driven by the ratio of methanogen to methanotroph relative abundance close to the surface. This study illustrates the importance of the interactions between water-level and microbial composition to better understand CH4 fluxes from bogs and wetlands in general.