Open Access Research article

Methane transport and emissions from soil as affected by water table and vascular plants

Gurbir S Bhullar12*, Majid Iravani3, Peter J Edwards1 and Harry Olde Venterink14

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Integrative Biology, Plant Ecology, ETH Zurich, Universitätstrasse 16, Zurich 8092, Switzerland

2 Research Institute of Organic Agriculture (FiBL), Ackerstrasse 21, Postfach 219, Frick 5070, Switzerland

3 Department of Natural Resources, Isfahan University of Technology, Isfahan 84156, Iran

4 Plant Biology and Nature Management, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Pleinlaan 2, Brussels 1050, Belgium

For all author emails, please log on.

BMC Ecology 2013, 13:32  doi:10.1186/1472-6785-13-32

Published: 8 September 2013



The important greenhouse gas (GHG) methane is produced naturally in anaerobic wetland soils. By affecting the production, oxidation and transport of methane to the atmosphere, plants have a major influence upon the quantities emitted by wetlands. Different species and functional plant groups have been shown to affect these processes differently, but our knowledge about how these effects are influenced by abiotic factors such as water regime and temperature remains limited. Here we present a mesocosm experiment comparing eight plant species for their effects on internal transport and overall emissions of methane under contrasting hydrological conditions. To quantify how much methane was transported internally through plants (the chimney effect), we blocked diffusion from the soil surface with an agar seal.


We found that graminoids caused higher methane emissions than forbs, although the emissions from mesocosms with different species were either lower than or comparable to those from control mesocosms with no plant (i.e. bare soil). Species with a relatively greater root volume and a larger biomass exhibited a larger chimney effect, though overall methane emissions were negatively related to plant biomass. Emissions were also reduced by lowering the water table.


We conclude that plant species (and functional groups) vary in the degree to which they transport methane to the atmosphere. However, a plant with a high capacity to transport methane does not necessarily emit more methane, as it may also cause more rhizosphere oxidation of methane. A shift in plant species composition from graminoids to forbs and/or from low to high productive species may lead to reduction of methane emissions.

CH4; Chimney; Climate change; Greenhouse gas; Plant species; Transport; Wetlands