Mechanisms controlling CO2 and CH4 production in wetlands are central to understanding carbon cycling and greenhouse gas exchange. However, the volatility of these respiration products complicates quantifying their rates of production in the field. Attempts to circumvent the challenges through closed system incubations, from which gases cannot escape, have been used to investigate bulk in situ geochemistry. Efforts towards mapping mechanistic linkages between geochemistry and microbiology have raised concern regarding sampling and incubation-induced perturbations. Microorganisms are impacted by oxygen exposure, increased temperatures and accumulation of metabolic products during handling, storage, and incubation. We probed the extent of these perturbations, and their influence on incubation results, using high-resolution geochemical and microbial gene-based community profiling of anaerobically incubated material from three wetland habitats across a permafrost peatland. We compared the original field samples to the material anaerobically incubated over 50 days. Bulk geochemistry and phylum-level microbiota in incubations largely reflected field observations, but divergence between field and incubations occurred in both geochemistry and lineage-level microbial composition when examined at closer resolution. Despite the changes in representative lineages over time, inferred metabolic function with regards to carbon cycling largely reproduced field results suggesting functional consistency. Habitat differences among the source materials remained the largest driver of variation in geochemical and microbial differences among the samples in both incubations and field results. While incubations may have limited usefulness for identifying specific mechanisms, they remain a viable tool for probing bulk-scale questions related to anaerobic C cycling, including CO2 and CH4 dynamics.
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