Methanogen diversity and community composition in peatlands of the central to northern Appalachian Mountain region, North America

Joseph B. Yavitt, Erika Yashiro, Hinsby Cadillo-Quiroz, Stephen H. Zinder

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

52 Scopus citations


Methanogenic archaea are ubiquitous in peat soils; however, their diversity and distributions within and among peatland ecosystems are not well known. We used comprehensive clone libraries of 16S rRNA gene sequences to investigate spatial patterns in diversity (richness, evenness of taxa) and composition (taxonomic, phylogenetic) of the methanogenic community in six peatlands arrayed 775 km from eastern Ontario, Canada to West Virginia, USA. Five sites were Sphagnum (moss) and shrub dominated; one site was sedge dominated; and, potential rates of methane (CH 4) production ranged from 15 to 450 nmol/g day. The gradient allowed us to examine influences of site conditions, site history, and climate on community composition. The region had representatives of methanogens from four taxonomic orders. We observed 29 operationally defined units (OTUs) based on >97% sequence identity. One OTU accounted for 43% of all clones, whereas 15 OTUs were rare with <1% of the total number of clones. The number of OTUs per site ranged from 4 to 21, and statistical analysis suggested diversity of 4-43 per site. Eighteen of the OTUs were endemic to one site; albeit, most endemics occurred in the sedge dominated site. One OTU was cosmopolitan, occurring in all six sites. We found a positive relationship between methanogen diversity and rates of CH 4 production per site (Pearson r = 0.93). Turnover in community composition between sites was weakly related to geographic distance between sites, whereas variation in soil pH and annual temperature played larger roles. About 50% of the variation in community composition was unexplained by distance, pH, mean climate, and site age. We conclude that methanogen diversity in peatlands of the central Appalachian region is shaped by present-day environmental conditions, suggesting an influence of impending climatic and environmental changes.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)117-131
Number of pages15
Issue number1-3
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • 16S ribosomal RNA
  • Beta diversity
  • Environmental gradient
  • Microbial communities
  • Peatland
  • Spatial turnover

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Earth-Surface Processes


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