pp 1–10 | Cite as

Methane Cycling Contributes to Distinct Patterns in Carbon Stable Isotopes of Wetland Detritus

  • Julia A. HartEmail author
  • Carmella VizzaEmail author
  • William E. West
  • Dominic T. Chaloner
  • Stuart E. Jones
  • Gary A. Lamberti
General Wetland Science


Increasing global temperatures are changing the balance between carbon sequestration and its microbial processing in wetlands, making the tracking of these processes important. We used detrital carbon stable isotopes (δ13C) to trace aerobic decomposition and CH4 production in two experiments conducted in Alaskan wetlands. In laboratory bottle incubations, larger decreases in detritus δ13C corresponded to higher net CH4 and CO2 production rates. Because net CH4 production was the stronger predictor and its effect was negative, we hypothesize that decreases in δ13C trace concurrent CH4 production and oxidation. In a field experiment, decreases in detritus δ13C were not correlated with aerobic decomposition rates, but were positively correlated with CH4 production potentials as estimated from bottle incubations. We hypothesize that the positive relationship reflects only CH4 production, rather than concurrent production and oxidation. Although CH4 production rates were correlated with changes in detrital δ13C in both experiments, the direction of this relationship differed between laboratory and field with important consequences for the scale of ecological experiments. Our study demonstrates that CH4 cycling can create distinct patterns in δ13C of wetland detritus. Future studies should conduct explicit mass balance experiments to clarify mechanisms and determine the importance of scale in shaping isotopic patterns.


Methane Stable isotopes Wetlands Decomposition Food webs 



We thank the Cordova Ranger District of the USDA Forest Service for providing instrumental field and logistical support. In particular, we thank Deyna Kuntzsch, Andrew Morin, Sean Meade, Luca Adelfio, and Ken Hodges for making fieldwork on the Copper River Delta possible. The UND Center for Environmental Science and Technology provided instrumentation and analytical assistance for chemical and stable isotope analysis. The UND Environmental Research Center provided instrumentation for gas chromatography. We would like to acknowledge Mike Brueseke for laboratory support. This study was made possible by the UND College of Science Summer Undergraduate Research Fellowship awarded to J.A. Hart and by a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship awarded to C. Vizza. Additional funding and support was provided by the University of Notre Dame College of Science and the USDA Forest Service Pacific Northwest Research Station.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest Statement

The authors declare that they have no conflicts of interest.


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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biological SciencesUniversity of Notre DameNotre DameUSA
  2. 2.School of Aquatic & Fishery SciencesUniversity of WashingtonSeattleUSA
  3. 3.Kellogg Biological StationMichigan State UniversityHickory CornersUSA

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