Increasing global annual temperature leads to massive loss of ice cover worldwide. Consequently, glaciers retreat and ice-covered areas become exposed. We report on a study from the Mittivakkat Gletscher forefield in Southeast Greenland with special focus on methanotrophy in relation to exposure time to the atmosphere. The Mittivakkat Gletscher has receded since the end of the Little Ice Age (LIA; about AD 1850) and has left behind a series of deposits of decreasing age concurrently with its recession. Soil samples from this chronosequence were examined in order to elucidate main soil variables, as well as the activity and community structure of methanotrophs, a group of microorganisms involved in regulation of atmospheric methane. Soil variables revealed poor soil development, and incubation experiments showed methane consumption rates of 2.14 nmol CH4 day−1 gsoil−1 at 22 °C and 1.24 nmol CH4 day−1 gsoil−1 at 10 °C in the LIA terminal moraine. Methane consumption was not detected in younger samples, despite the presence of high-affinity methanotrophs in all samples. This was indicated by successful amplification of partial pmoA genes, which code for a subunit of a key enzyme involved in methane oxidation. In addition, the results of the diversity study show that the diversity of the methanotrophic community at the younger, recently deglaciated site P5 is poorer than the diversity of the community retrieved from the LIA moraine. We put forward the hypothesis that aerobic methanotrophs were at very low abundance and diversity during glaciation probably due to anoxia at the ice-sediment interface and that colonization after deglaciation is not completed yet. More detailed studies are required to explain the causes of discrepancy between activity and presence of high-affinity methanotrophs and its relation to the transit from ice-covered probably anoxic to ice-free oxic conditions.
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