Streambed organic matter controls on carbon dioxide and methane emissions from streams

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Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4) from streambeds are currently understudied. There is a paucity of research exploring organic matter (OM) controls on GHG production by microbial metabolic activity in streambeds, which is a major knowledge gap given the increased inputs of allochthonous carbon to streams, especially in agricultural catchments. This study aims to contribute to closing this knowledge gap by quantifying how contrasting OM contents in different sediments affect streambed GHG production and associated microbial metabolic activity. We demonstrate, by means of an incubation experiment, that streambed sediments have the potential to produce substantial amounts of GHG, controlled by sediment OM quantity and quality. We observed streambed CO2 production rates that can account for 35% of total stream evasion estimated in previous studies, ranging between 1.4 and 86% under optimal conditions. Methane production varied stronger than CO2 between different geologic backgrounds, suggesting OM quality controls between streambed sediments. Moreover, our results indicate that streambed sediments may produce much more CO2 than quantified to date, depending on the quantity and quality of the organic matter, which has direct implications for global estimates of C fluxes in stream ecosystems.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2364-2374
Number of pages11
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number5
Early online date29 Jan 2019
Publication statusPublished - 5 Mar 2019


  • Earth and environmental sciences
  • biogeochemistry
  • carbon cycle
  • ecology
  • freshwater ecology
  • microbial ecology
  • greenhouse gas
  • carbon dioxide
  • methane


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