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Methane consumption by forest soil was studied in situ and in vitro with respect to responses to nitrogen additions at atmospheric and elevated methane concentrations. Methane concentrations in intact soil decreased continuously from atmospheric levels at the surface to 0.5 ppm at a depth of 14 cm. The consumption rate of atmospheric methane in soils, however, was highest in the 4- to 8-cm depth interval (2.9 nmol per g of dry soil per day), with much lower activities below and above this zone. In contrast, extractable ammonium and nitrate concentrations were highest in the surface layer (0 to 2 cm; 22 and 1.6 μmol per g of dry soil, respectively), as was potential ammonium-oxidizing activity (19 nmol per g of dry soil per day). The difference in zonation between ammonium oxidation and methane consumption suggested that ammonia-oxidizing bacteria did not contribute significantly to atmospheric methane consumption. Exogenous ammonium inhibited methane consumption in situ and in vitro, but the pattern of inhibition did not conform to expectations based on simple competition between ammonia and methane for methane monooxygenase. The extent of ammonium inhibition increased with increasing methane concentration. Inhibition by a single ammonium addition remained constant over a period of 39 days. In addition, nitrite, the end product of methanotrophic ammonia oxidation, was a more effective inhibitor of methane consumption than ammonium. Factors that stimulated ammonium oxidation in soil, e.g., elevated methane concentrations and the availability of cosubstrates such as formate, methanol, or β- hydroxybutyrate, enhanced ammonium inhibition of methane oxidation, probably as a result of enhanced nitrite production.

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Applied and Environmental Microbiology

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