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ARS Home » Midwest Area » Ames, Iowa » National Animal Disease Center » Food Safety and Enteric Pathogens Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #244562

Title: Agriculture's Impact on Microbial Diversity and Associated Fluxes of Carbon Dioxide and Methane

item Levine, Uri
item TEAL, TRACY - Michigan State University
item ROBERTSON, G - Michigan State University
item SCHMIDT, THOMAS - Michigan State University

Submitted to: The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 2/8/2011
Publication Date: 4/14/2011
Citation: Levine, U.Y., Teal, T.K., Robertson, G.P., Schmidt, T.M. 2011. Agriculture's impact on microbial diversity and associated fluxes of carbon dioxide and methane. The ISME Journal: Multidisciplinary Journal of Microbial Ecology. Available:

Interpretive Summary: The atmospheric concentrations of the greenhouse gases Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) continue to rise, and now exceed any of their levels over the past 650,000 years. Conversion of native upland soils (e.g. forest, grassland) to use in row-crop agriculture reduces the soils? ability to consume methane by an average of 71%, and is estimated to have caused approximately 25% of the increase in carbon dioxide since 1850. Microbes directly control the methane consumption, and portions of the carbon dioxide production from these soils. This study found that the diversity of methane-consuming bacteria decreases in row-crop agricultural soil, and so do rates of methane consumption. There was no relationship between bacterial diversity and carbon dioxide production. The importance of the diversity of methane-consuming bacteria to rates of methane consumption suggests that managing agricultural lands to conserve or restore the diversity of methane-consuming bacteria is a possible way to decrease the concentration of a greenhouse gas, methane, in the atmosphere.

Technical Abstract: Carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) are two gases most responsible for contemporary increases in the radiative forcing of the atmosphere. Fluxes of both gases are affected by agriculture. Soil comprises the largest terrestrial reservoir of carbon, which is oxidized to CO2 upon agricultural conversion. Agriculture also diminishes methane oxidation in arable soils – Earth’s largest biological sink for atmospheric CH4. We examined relationships between soil microbial diversity and the magnitude and stability of CO2 production and CH4 oxidation by conducting molecular surveys of methane–oxidizing bacteria (methanotrophs) and total bacterial diversity and measuring gas fluxes across a range of land uses at a site in the upper U.S. Midwest. We found a 7-fold reduction and increased variability in methane consumption in agricultural sites compared to deciduous forest sites, as well as a proportionate decrease in methanotroph diversity. In fields abandoned from agriculture, the rate and stability of methane consumption, along with the diversity of methanotrophs, increased with time since abandonment. Conversely, estimates of total bacterial diversity in soil were not related to the rate or stability of CO2 emission. Our results are consistent with the hypothesis that microbial diversity is a strong predictor of the magnitude and variability of processes catalyzed by organisms with highly specialized metabolisms such as methane oxidation, and a poor predictor of processes driven by widely distributed metabolic processes like carbon dioxide production. The data also suggest that managing lands to conserve or restore methanotroph diversity could mitigate the atmospheric concentrations of this potent greenhouse gas.