• CH4 production;
  • Fermentation;
  • Ribosomal RNA;
  • Terminal restriction fragment


In anoxically incubated slurries of Italian rice field soil, CH4 production is initiated after a lag phase during which ferric iron and sulfate are reduced. The production of CH4 was affected by the size of soil aggregates used for the preparation of the soil slurry. Rates of CH4 production were lowest with small aggregates (<50 and 50–100 μm), were highest with aggregates of 200–2000 μm size and were intermediate with aggregates of 2000–15 000 μm size. The different amounts of CH4 accumulated were positively correlated to the concentrations of acetate, propionate and caproate that transiently accumulated in the slurries prepared from different aggregate sizes and also to the organic carbon content. The addition of organic debris that was collected from large-size aggregates to the aggregate size fractions <200 and <50 μm resulted in an increase of CH4 production to amounts that were comparable to those measured in unamended aggregates of 200–2000 μm size, indicating that CH4 production in the different aggregate size fractions was limited by substrate. The distribution of archaeal small-subunit rRNA genes in the different soil aggregate fractions was analyzed by terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism which allowed seven different archaeal ribotypes to be distinguished. Ribotype-182 (consisting of members of the Methanosarcinaceae and rice cluster VI), ribotype-389 (rice cluster I and II) and ribotype-820 (undigested DNA, rice cluster IV and members of the Methanosarcinaceae) accounted for >20, >30 and >10% of the total, respectively. The other ribotypes accounted for <10% of the total. The relative quantity of the individual ribotypes changed only slightly with incubation time and was almost the same among the different soil aggregate fractions. Ribotype-389, for example, slightly decreased with time, whereas ribotype-182 slightly increased. At the end of incubation, the relative quantity of ribotype-182 seemed to be slightly higher in soil fractions with larger than with smaller aggregates, whereas it was the opposite with ribotype-80 (Methanomicrobiaceae) and ribotype-88 (Methanobacteriaceae). Ribotype-280 (Methanosaetaceae and rice cluster V), ribotype-375 (rice cluster III), ribotype-389 and ribotype-820, on the other hand, were not much different among the different soil aggregate size fractions. However, the differences were not significant relative to the errors encountered during the extraction of polymerase chain reaction (PCR)-amplifiable DNA from soil. In conclusion, soil aggregate size and incubation time showed a strong effect on the function but only a small effect on the structure of the methanogenic microbial community.