Vegetation and microbes interact to preserve carbon in many wooded peatlands

Peatlands have persisted as massive carbon sinks over millennia, even during past periods of climate change. The commonly accepted theory of abiotic controls (mainly anoxia and low temperature) over carbon decomposition cannot fully explain how vast low-latitude shrub/tree dominated (wooded) peatlands consistently accrete peat under warm and seasonally unsaturated conditions. Here we show, by comparing the composition and ecological traits of microbes between Sphagnum- and shrub-dominated peatlands, that slow-growing microbes decisively dominate the studied shrub-dominated peatlands, concomitant with plant-induced increases in highly recalcitrant carbon and phenolics. The slow-growing microbes metabolize organic matter thirty times slower than the fast-growing microbes that dominate our Sphagnum-dominated site. We suggest that the high-phenolic shrub/tree induced shifts in microbial composition may compensate for positive effects of temperature and/or drought on metabolism over time in peatlands. This biotic self-sustaining process that modulates abiotic controls on carbon cycling may improve projections of long-term, climate-carbon feedbacks in peatlands.
© The Author(s) 2021. This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, which permits use, sharing, adaptation, distribution and reproduction in any medium or format, as long as you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The images or other third party material in this article are included in the article’s Creative Commons license, unless indicated otherwise in a credit line to the material. If material is not included in the article’s Creative Commons license and your intended use is not permitted by statutory regulation or exceeds the permitted use, you will need to obtain permission directly from the copyright holder. To view a copy of this license, visit The Version of Scholarly Record of this Article is published in Communications Earth & Environment, 2021, available online at: . Keywords: biogeochemistry; climate sciences; ecology; microbiology; plant sciences.
Wang, H., Tian, J., Chen, H. et al. Vegetation and microbes interact to preserve carbon in many wooded peatlands. Commun Earth Environ 2, 67 (2021).