Climate-driven shifts in sediment chemistry enhance methane production in northern lakes

06 Jun 2018

Freshwater ecosystems are a major source of methane (CH4), contributing 0.65 Pg (in CO2 equivalents) yr-1 towards global carbon emissions and offsetting ~25% of the terrestrial carbon sink. Most CH4 emissions come from littoral sediments, where large quantities of plant material are decomposed. Climate change is predicted to shift plant community composition, and thus change the quality of inputs into detrital food webs, with the potential to affect CH4 production. Here we find that variation in phenol availability from decomposing organic matter underlies large differences in CH4 production in lake sediments. Production is at least 400-times higher from sediments composed of macrophyte litter compared to terrestrial sources because of inhibition of methanogenesis by phenol leachates. Our results now suggest that earth system models and carbon budgets should consider the effects of plant communities on sediment chemistry and ultimately CH4 emissions at a global scale.