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Pulse labelling of deep soil layers in forest with 13CH4: testing a new method for tracing methane in the upper horizons, understorey vegetation and tree stems using laser-based spectrometry

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Methane emissions from plants in wetlands are mainly due to internal transport, from the anoxic soil layers where methane is produced, to the atmosphere. This pathway has not yet been clearly demonstrated for upland forest vegetation, where methane can be produced in deep soil layers. We developed a new method to trace methane transfer from the deep soil. We conducted a 13CH4 pulse labelling at 40-cm soil depth and then monitored 13CH4 in the upper horizons, at the soil surface (with or without understorey vegetation) and emitted by tree stems until the total disappearance of the labelled gas. Most of the injected 13CH4 was oxidized in the soil despite high soil water content. The understorey vegetation did not contribute to 13CH4 emission by the soil. We prove that tree stems can emit methane produced in an upland forest soil, even when the said soil is a net methane sink. We conclude that pulse labelling with 13CH4 and tracing by laser-based spectrometry is a promising tool approach to study the transport of methane from production to emission.

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We are grateful to S. Martin, E. Dalle, P. Courtois for their technical assistance and to the colleagues who kindly helped us in the field (B. Amiaud, S. Chauchard, D. Desalme, N. Marron and P. Priault). We also thank B. Longdoz, I. Houillon and E. Delogu for the adaptation of the flux gradient model. We also thank the colleagues of the “Biogéochimie des Ecosystèmes Forestiers” laboratory who are in charge of the experimental forest where we did the experiment and to K. Klumpp who allowed us to use the isotope analyser.


This study was part of the EMEFOR project, which received financial support from the ADEME – REACTIF programme (convention n° 12–60-C0057), the French agency for ecological transition. This work was supported partly by the French PIA project “Lorraine Université d’Excellence”, reference ANR-15-IDEX-04-LUE. The installation of the experimental site was mainly supported by the French National Forest Office (ONF). UMR 1434 is supported by the ARBRE Laboratory of Excellence (ANR-11-LABX-0002–01). The isotope analyser belongs to the French National Research Infrastructure “AnaEE France” (ANR-11-INBS-0001).

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CP and DE planned and designed the research. CP performed the experiment and analysed the data. CP and DE wrote the manuscript.

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Correspondence to C. Plain.

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Plain, C., Epron, D. Pulse labelling of deep soil layers in forest with 13CH4: testing a new method for tracing methane in the upper horizons, understorey vegetation and tree stems using laser-based spectrometry. Biogeochemistry 153, 215–222 (2021).

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