Vegetation and microbes interact to preserve carbon in many wooded peatlands

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<jats:title>Abstract</jats:title><jats:p>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 <jats:italic>Sphagnum</jats:italic>- 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 <jats:italic>Sphagnum</jats:italic>-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.</jats:p>






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Wang, H, J Tian, H Chen, M Ho, R Vilgalys, ZJ Bu, X Liu, CJ Richardson, et al. (2021). Vegetation and microbes interact to preserve carbon in many wooded peatlands. Communications Earth & Environment, 2(1). 10.1038/s43247-021-00136-4 Retrieved from

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Rytas J. Vilgalys

Professor of Biology

My scientific work includes traditional and modern research approaches to studying all areas of mycology including systematics, evolution, medical mycology, plant pathology, genetics/genomics, and ecology.  I am best known for my involvement in the transition of fungal systematics from a non-quantitative, largely morphologically based science to the rigorous genome-based discipline that it is today.  For the past 20 years, my lab has been increasingly involved in the study of fungal “ecogenomics” using targeted and shotgun metagenomics which link molecular function with fungal diversity.  In collaboration with medical mycologists and basic scientists at Duke Medical Center, I have also helped to bring an evolutionary biology perspective toward the study of human mycoses.


Curtis J. Richardson

Research Professor of Resource Ecology in the Division of Environmental Science and Policy

Curtis J. Richardson is Professor of Resource Ecology and founding Director of the Duke University Wetland Center in the Nicholas School of the Environment. Dr. Richardson earned his degrees from the State University of New York and the University of Tennessee.

His research interests in applied ecology focus on long-term ecosystem response to large-scale perturbations such as climate change, toxic materials, trace metals, flooding, or nutrient additions. He has specific interests in phosphorus nutrient dynamics in wetlands and the effects of environmental stress on plant communities and ecosystem functions and services. The objectives of his research are to utilize ecological principles to develop new approaches to environmental problem solving. The goal of his research is to provide predictive models and approaches to aid in the management of ecosystems.

Recent research activities: 1) wetland restoration of plant communities and its effects on regional water quality and nutrient biogeochemical cycles, 2) the development of ecosystem metrics as indices of wetland restoration success, 3) the effects of nanomaterial on wetland and stream ecosystem processes, 4) the development of ecological thresholds along environmental gradients, 5) wetland development trends and restoration in coastal southeastern United States, 6) the development of an outdoor wetland and stream research and teaching laboratory on Duke Forest, 7) differential nutrient limitation (DNL) as a mechanism to overcome N or P limitations across trophic levels in wetland ecosystems, and 8) carbon sequestration in coastal North Carolina pocosins.

Richardson oversees the main analytical lab in NSOE, which is open to students and faculty. Dr. Richardson has been listed in Who's Who in Science™ annually since 1989 and was elected President of the Society of Wetland Scientists in 1987-88. He has served on many editorial review committees for peer-reviewed scientific journals, and he is a past Chair of the Nicholas School Division of Environmental Sciences and Policy. Dr. Richardson is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Society of Wetland Scientists, and the Soil Science Society of America.

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