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Widespread methanotrophic primary production in lowland chalk rivers

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Article number20132854
<mark>Journal publication date</mark>05/2014
<mark>Journal</mark>Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
Issue number1783
Volume281
Number of pages8
Publication StatusPublished
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

Methane is oversaturated relative to the atmosphere in many rivers, yet its cycling and fate is poorly understood. While photosynthesis is the dominant source of autotrophic carbon to rivers, chemosynthesis and particularly methane oxidation could provide alternative sources of primary production where the riverbed is heavily shaded or at depth beneath the sediment surface. Here, we highlight geographically widespread methanotrophic carbon fixation within the gravel riverbeds of over 30 chalk rivers. In 15 of these, the potential for methane oxidation (methanotrophy) was also compared with photosynthesis. In addition, we performed detailed concurrent measurements of photosynthesis and methanotrophy in one large chalk river over a complete annual cycle, where we found methanotrophy to be active to at least 15 cm into the riverbed and to be strongly substrate limited. The seasonal trend in methanotrophic activity reflected that of the riverine methane concentrations, and thus the highest rates were measured in mid-summer. At the sediment surface, photosynthesis was limited by light for most of the year with heavy shading induced by dense beds of aquatic macrophytes. Across 15 rivers, in late summer, we conservatively calculated that net methanotrophy was equivalent to between 1% and 46% of benthic net photosynthetic production within the gravel riverbed, with a median value of 4%. Hence, riverbed chemosynthesis, coupled to the oxidation of methane, is widespread and significant in English chalk rivers.