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Summary

Methanogenic microbial communities in soil and sediment function only when the environment is inundated and anoxic. In contrast to submerged soils, desiccation of lake sediments happens only rarely. However, some predictions suggest that extreme events of drying will become more common in the Amazon region, and this will promote an increase in sediments drying and exposure. We asked whether and how such methanogenic communities can withstand desiccation stress. Therefore, we determined the rates and pathways of CH4 production (analysis of CH4 and δ13C of CH4, CO2 and acetate), the copy numbers of bacterial and archaeal 16S rRNA genes and mcrA genes (quantitative PCR), and the community composition of Archaea and Bacteria (T-RFLP and pyrosequencing) in oxbow lake sediments of rivers in the Brazilian Amazon region. The rivers were of white water, black water and clear water type. The measurements were done with sediment in fresh state and after drying and rewetting. After desiccation and rewetting the composition of both, the archaeal and bacterial community changed. Since lake sediments from white water rivers exhibited only negligible methanogenic activity, probably because of relatively high iron and low organic matter content, they were not further analysed. The other sediments produced CH4, with hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis usually accounting for > 50% of total activity. After desiccation and rewetting, archaeal and bacterial gene copy numbers decreased. The bacterial community showed a remarkable increase of Clostridiales from about 10% to > 30% of all Bacteria, partially caused by proliferation of specific taxa as the numbers of OTU shared with fresh sediment decreased from about 9% to 3%. Among the Archaea, desiccation specifically enhanced the relative abundance of either Methanocellales (black water) and/or Methanosarcinaceae (clear water). Despite the changes in gene copy numbers and composition of the microbial community, rates of CH4 production even increased after desiccation-rewetting, demonstrating that the function of the methanogenic microbial community had not been impaired. This result indicates that the increase in extreme events of drying may increase methane production in flooded sediments.