Soil Microbiology

Microbial Ecology

, Volume 66, Issue 3, pp 621-629

First online:

Open Access This content is freely available online to anyone, anywhere at any time.

A Microbial Link between Elevated CO2 and Methane Emissions that is Plant Species-Specific

  • Jenny Kao-KniffinAffiliated withDepartment of Horticulture, Cornell University Email author 
  • , Biao ZhuAffiliated withDepartment of Horticulture, Cornell UniversityEarth Sciences Division, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory


Rising atmospheric CO2 levels alter the physiology of many plant species, but little is known of changes to root dynamics that may impact soil microbial mediation of greenhouse gas emissions from wetlands. We grew co-occurring wetland plant species that included an invasive reed canary grass (Phalaris arundinacea L.) and a native woolgrass (Scirpus cyperinus L.) in a controlled greenhouse facility under ambient (380 ppm) and elevated atmospheric CO2 (700 ppm). We hypothesized that elevated atmospheric CO2 would increase the abundance of both archaeal methanogen and bacterial methanotroph populations through stimulation of plant root and shoot biomass. We found that methane levels emitted from S. cyperinus shoots increased 1.5-fold under elevated CO2, while no changes in methane levels were detected from P. arundincea. The increase in methane emissions was not explained by enhanced root or shoot growth of S. cyperinus. Principal components analysis of the total phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) recovered from microbial cell membranes revealed that elevated CO2 levels shifted the composition of the microbial community under S. cyperinus, while no changes were detected under P. arundinacea. More detailed analysis of microbial abundance showed no impact of elevated CO2 on a fatty acid indicative of methanotrophic bacteria (18:2ω6c), and no changes were detected in the terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism (T-RFLP) relative abundance profiles of acetate-utilizing archaeal methanogens. Plant carbon depleted in 13C was traced into the PLFAs of soil microorganisms as a measure of the plant contribution to microbial PLFA. The relative contribution of plant-derived carbon to PLFA carbon was larger in S. cyperinus compared with P. arundinacea in four PLFAs (i14:0, i15:0, a15:0, and 18:1ω9t). The δ13C isotopic values indicate that the contribution of plant-derived carbon to microbial lipids could differ in rhizospheres of CO2-responsive plant species, such as S. cyperinus in this study. The results from this study show that the CO2–methane link found in S. cyperinus can occur without a corresponding change in methanogen and methanotroph relative abundances, but PLFA analysis indicated shifts in the community profile of bacteria and fungi that were unique to rhizospheres under elevated CO2.