Effect of peat quality on microbial greenhouse gas formation in an acidic fen
- 1Institute of Ecology, Friedrich Schiller University Jena, Dornburger Strasse 159, 07743 Jena, Germany
- 2Max Planck Institute for Biogeochemistry, POB 100164 10, 07701 Jena, Germany
Abstract. Peatlands play an important role in the global carbon cycle and represent both an important stock of soil carbon and a substantial natural source of relevant greenhouse gases like CO2 and CH4. While it is known that the quality of organic matter affects microbial degradation and mineralization processes in peatlands, the manner in which the quality of peat organic matter affects the formation of CO2 and CH4 remains unclear. In this study we developed a fast and simple peat quality index in order to estimate its potential greenhouse gas formation by linking the thermo-degradability of peat with potential anaerobic CO2 and CH4 formation rates. Peat samples were obtained at several depths (0–40 cm) at four sampling locations from an acidic fen (pH 4.7). CO2 and CH4 formation rates were highly spatially variable and depended on depth, sampling location, and the composition of pyrolysable organic matter. Peat samples active in CO2 and CH4 formation had a quality index above 1.35, and the fraction of thermally labile pyrolyzable organic matter (comparable to easily available carbon substrates for microbial activity) obtained by thermogravimetry was above 35%. Curie-point pyrolysis-gas chromatography/mass spectrometry mainly identified carbohydrates and lignin as pyrolysis products in these samples, indicating that undecomposed organic matter was found in this fraction. In contrast, lipids and unspecific pyrolysis products, which indicate recalcitrant and highly decomposed organic matter, correlated significantly with lower CO2 formation and reduced methanogenesis. Our results suggest that undecomposed organic matter is a prerequisite for CH4 and CO2 development in acidic fens. Furthermore, the new peat quality index should aide the estimation of potential greenhouse gas formation resulting from peatland restoration and permafrost thawing and help yield more robust models of trace gas fluxes from peatlands for climate change research.