Apr 13, 2020

Vegetation and Microbes Interact to Preserve Organic Matter in Wooded Peatlands

BioRxiv : the Preprint Server for Biology
Hongjun WangC. J. Richardson


Peatlands have persisted over millennia as massive carbon sinks even during past periods of climate change. The commonly accepted theory of abiotic controls (mainly anoxia and low temperature) over carbon decomposition cannot explain how vast low-latitude wooded peatlands consistently accrete peat under warm and seasonally unsaturated conditions. Similarly, that theory cannot accurately project the decomposition rate in boreal peatlands where warming and drought have decreased Sphagnum and increased shrub expansion. Here, by comparing composition and ecological traits of microbes between Sphagnum- and shrub-dominated peatlands, we present a previously unrecognized natural course that curbs carbon loss against climate change. Slow-growing microbes decisively dominate the wooded peatlands, concomitant with plant-induced high recalcitrant carbon and phenolics. The slow-growing microbes metabolize organic matter inherently slowly. However, the fast-growing microbes that dominate in our Sphagnum site and most boreal peatlands decomposed labile carbon >30 times faster than the slow-growing microbes. We show that the high-phenolic shrub/tree induced shifts in microbial composition may compensate for positive effects of temperature and...Continue Reading

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