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Volume 2012 (2012), Article ID 896727, 9 pages
Research Article

Archaeol: An Indicator of Methanogenesis in Water-Saturated Soils

1Organic Geochemistry Unit, Bristol Biogeochemistry Research Centre and The Cabot Institute, School of Chemistry, University of Bristol, Cantock’s Close, Bristol BS8 1TS, UK
2Bristol Biogeochemistry Research Centre and The Cabot Institute, School of Earth Sciences, University of Bristol, Wills Memorial Building, Queen’s Road, Bristol BS8 1RJ, UK

Received 21 August 2012; Accepted 16 October 2012

Academic Editor: Michael Hoppert

Copyright © 2012 Katie L. H. Lim et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Oxic soils typically are a sink for methane due to the presence of high-affinity methanotrophic Bacteria capable of oxidising methane. However, soils experiencing water saturation are able to host significant methanogenic archaeal communities, potentially affecting the capacity of the soil to act as a methane sink. In order to provide insight into methanogenic populations in such soils, the distribution of archaeol in free and conjugated forms was investigated as an indicator of fossilised and living methanogenic biomass using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry with selected ion monitoring. Of three soils studied, only one organic matter-rich site contained archaeol in quantifiable amounts. Assessment of the subsurface profile revealed a dominance of archaeol bound by glycosidic headgroups over phospholipids implying derivation from fossilised biomass. Moisture content, through control of organic carbon and anoxia, seemed to govern trends in methanogen biomass. Archaeol and crenarchaeol profiles differed, implying the former was not of thaumarcheotal origin. Based on these results, we propose the use of intact archaeol as a useful biomarker for methanogen biomass in soil and to track changes in moisture status and aeration related to climate change.