A mechanistic model of microbial competition in the rhizosphere of wetland plants
Monday, 15 December 2014
Wetlands are the largest natural source of methane to the atmosphere. Although they cover only 4-6% of earth’s surface, wetlands contribute 20-39% of global methane emissions. Hollow aerenchyma tissues inside the roots, stems and leaves of plants represent one of the most important methane emission pathways for wetlands. Up to 90% of the emitted methane can diffuse through these hollow tissues that directly connect the atmosphere to the anoxic soils where methane is generated. Thus, concentrations of methane surrounding plant roots directly impact the amount of methane emitted by wetlands. Methane concentrations are controlled by a variety of microbial processes occurring in the soil around the roots of plants (aka the rhizosphere). The rhizosphere is a microbial hotspot sustained by plant inputs of organic carbon and oxygen; plant roots exude excess organic carbon generated in photosynthesis into the rhizosphere and atmospheric oxygen diffuses down to the rhizosphere through the hollow aerenchyma tissues. This environment supports a variety of microbial communities that compete with each other for available carbon and oxygen, including methanogens, methanotrophs, and heterotrophs. Methanogens ferment organic carbon into methane, a reaction that is inhibited by oxygen; methanotrophs use oxygen to oxidize methane into carbon dioxide; and heterotrophs use oxygen to oxidize organic carbon into carbon dioxide. We are interested in understanding how competition between these communities alters methane concentrations and responds to variations in plant inputs. To this end, we have developed a mechanistic root-scale model that describes microbial competition for organic carbon and oxygen in the rhizosphere of wetland plants. Our results focus on variations in rates of methane production, methane oxidation, heterotrophic respiration, and diffusion of methane into plant roots as a result of changes in carbon and oxygen inputs. The study provides insight into how plant-mediated emission of methane may change in the future as plant inputs of carbon and oxygen respond to potential altered climate conditions and alter microbial competition around the roots of wetland plants.