Methanotrophy (the bacterial oxidation of CH4) in soils is the major biological sink for atmospheric CH4. Here we present results from a study designed to quantify the role of the physical diffusion barrier to CH4, through surface soils, as a factor affecting methanotrophy. We used the mountain birch forest–tundra heath ecotone in subarctic northern Sweden as our study system. Our results show that, although CH4 fluxes were generally low (around −20 µmol m−2 h−1; a net flux from atmosphere to soil), the two adjacent communities responded in contrasting ways to in situ experimental reduction of the diffusion barrier (removal of the top 50 mm of soil): Uptake increased by 40% in forest soil in association with the removal, whereas it decreased marginally (by 10%) in tundra heath. Investigations of the depth-distribution of CH4 oxidation in vitro revealed maximum rates at the top of the mineral soil for the forest site, whereas at the tundra heath this was more evenly spread throughout the organic horizon. The contrasting physicochemical properties and methanotroph activity in the organic horizons together explain the contrasting responses to the removal treatment. They also illustrate the potential role of vegetation for methane oxidation around this ecotone, exerted through its influence on the depth and properties of the organic horizons in these subarctic soils.
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Vol. 39 • No. 3