Anaerobic methane oxidation coupled to denitrification, also known as “nitrate/nitrite-dependent anaerobic methane oxidation” (n-damo), was discovered in 2006. Since then, only a few studies have identified this process and the associated microorganisms in natural environments. In aquatic sediments, the close proximity of oxygen- and nitrate-consumption zones can mask n-damo as aerobic methane oxidation. We therefore investigated the vertical distribution and the abundance of denitrifying methanotrophs related to Candidatus Methylomirabilis oxyfera with cultivation-independent molecular techniques in the sediments of Lake Constance. Additionally, the vertical distribution of methane oxidation and nitrate consumption zones was inferred from high-resolution microsensor profiles in undisturbed sediment cores. M. oxyfera-like bacteria were virtually absent at shallow-water sites (littoral sediment) and were very abundant at deep-water sites (profundal sediment). In profundal sediment, the vertical distribution of M. oxyfera-like bacteria showed a distinct peak in anoxic layers that coincided with the zone of methane oxidation and nitrate consumption, a strong indication for n-damo carried out by M. oxyfera-like bacteria. Both potential n-damo rates calculated from cell densities (660–4,890 μmol CH4·m−2·d−1) and actual rates calculated from microsensor profiles (31–437 μmol CH4·m−2·d−1) were sufficiently high to prevent methane release from profundal sediment solely by this process. Additionally, when nitrate was added to sediment cores exposed to anoxic conditions, the n-damo zone reestablished well below the sediment surface, completely preventing methane release from the sediment. We conclude that the previously overlooked n-damo process can be the major methane sink in stable freshwater environments if nitrate is available in anoxic zones.
Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, 2014, Vol 111, Issue 51