Climate change will lead to more extreme precipitation and associated increase of flooding events of soils. This can turn these soils from a sink into a source of atmospheric methane. The latter will depend on the balance of microbial methane production and oxidation. In the present study, the structural and functional response of methane oxidizing microbial communities was investigated in a riparian flooding gradient. Four sites differing in flooding frequency were sampled and soil-physico-chemistry as well as methane oxidizing activities, numbers and community composition were assessed. Next to this, the active community members were determined by stable isotope probing of lipids. Methane consumption as well as population size distinctly increased with flooding frequency. All methane consumption parameters (activity, numbers, lipids) correlated with soil moisture, organic matter content, and conductivity. Methane oxidizing bacteria were present and activated quickly even in seldom flooded soils. However, the active species comprised only a few representatives belonging to the genera Methylobacter, Methylosarcina, and Methylocystis, the latter being active only in permanently or regularly flooded soils.
This study demonstrates that soils exposed to irregular flooding harbor a very responsive methane oxidizing community that has the potential to mitigate methane produced in these soils. The number of active species is limited and dominated by one methane oxidizing lineage. Knowledge on the characteristics of these microbes is necessary to assess the effects of flooding of soils and subsequent methane cycling therein.