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The oxidation of methane by methane-oxidising microorganisms is an important link in the global methane budget. Oxic soils are a net sink while wetland soils are a net source of atmospheric methane. It has generally been accepted that the consumption of methane in upland as well as lowland systems is inhibited by nitrogenous fertiliser additions. Hence, mineral nitrogen (i.e. ammonium/nitrate) has conceptually been treated as a component with the potential to enhance emission of methane from soils and sediments to the atmosphere, and results from numerous studies have been interpreted as such. Recently, ammonium-based fertilisation was demonstrated to stimulate methane consumption in rice paddies. Growth and activity of methane-consuming bacteria in microcosms as well as in natural rice paddies was N limited. Analysing the available literature revealed that indications for N limitation of methane consumption have been reported in a variety of lowland soils, upland soils, and sediments. Obviously, depriving methane-oxidising bacteria of a suitable source of N hampers their growth and activity. However, an almost instantaneous link between the presence of mineral nitrogen (i.e. ammonium, nitrate) and methane-oxidising activity, as found in rice soils and culture experiments, requires an alternative explanation. We propose that switching from mineral N assimilation to the fixation of molecular nitrogen may explain this phenomenon. However, there is as yet no experimental evidence for any mechanism of instantaneous stimulation, since most studies have assumed that nitrogenous fertiliser is inhibitory of methane oxidation in soils and have focused only on this aspect. Nitrogen as essential factor on the sink side of the global methane budget has been neglected, leading to erroneous interpretation of methane emission dynamics, especially from wetland environments. The purpose of this minireview is to summarise and balance the data on the regulatory role of nitrogen in the consumption of methane by soils and sediments, and thereby stimulate the scientific community to embark on experiments to close the existing gap in knowledge. [KEYWORDS: Methane oxidation; Fertilization; Inhibition; Ammonia oxidation; Wetland; Soil; Sediment; Methane emission]
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)265-277
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2004

ID: 123624