Abundant carbon substrates drive extremely high sulfate reduction rates and methane fluxes in Prairie Pothole Wetlands

Paula Dalcin Martins, David W. Hoyt, Sheel Bansal, Christopher T. Mills, Malak Tfaily, Brian A. Tangen, Raymond G. Finocchiaro, Michael D. Johnston, Brandon C. McAdams, Matthew J. Solensky, Garrett J. Smith, Yu Ping Chin, Michael J. Wilkins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

59 Scopus citations


Inland waters are increasingly recognized as critical sites of methane emissions to the atmosphere, but the biogeochemical reactions driving such fluxes are less well understood. The Prairie Pothole Region (PPR) of North America is one of the largest wetland complexes in the world, containing millions of small, shallow wetlands. The sediment pore waters of PPR wetlands contain some of the highest concentrations of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) and sulfur species ever recorded in terrestrial aquatic environments. Using a suite of geochemical and microbiological analyses, we measured the impact of sedimentary carbon and sulfur transformations in these wetlands on methane fluxes to the atmosphere. This research represents the first study of coupled geochemistry and microbiology within the PPR and demonstrates how the conversion of abundant labile DOC pools into methane results in some of the highest fluxes of this greenhouse gas to the atmosphere ever reported. Abundant DOC and sulfate additionally supported some of the highest sulfate reduction rates ever measured in terrestrial aquatic environments, which we infer to account for a large fraction of carbon mineralization in this system. Methane accumulations in zones of active sulfate reduction may be due to either the transport of free methane gas from deeper locations or the co-occurrence of methanogenesis and sulfate reduction. If both respiratory processes are concurrent, any competitive inhibition of methanogenesis by sulfate-reducing bacteria may be lessened by the presence of large labile DOC pools that yield noncompetitive substrates such as methanol. Our results reveal some of the underlying mechanisms that make PPR wetlands biogeochemical hotspots, which ultimately leads to their critical, but poorly recognized role in regional greenhouse gas emissions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3107-3120
Number of pages14
JournalGlobal change biology
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • 16S rRNA gene sequencing
  • carbon and sulfur cycling
  • methane emissions
  • sediments
  • sulfate reduction rates
  • wetlands

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecology
  • General Environmental Science


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