Pollution-tolerant invertebrates enhance greenhouse gas flux in urban wetlands

Andrew S. Mehring, Perran L.M. Cook, Victor Evrard, Stanley B. Grant, Lisa A. Levin

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12 Citations (Scopus)


One of the goals of urban ecology is to link community structure to ecosystem function in urban habitats. Pollution-tolerant wetland invertebrates have been shown to enhance greenhouse gas (GHG) flux in controlled laboratory experiments, suggesting that they may influence urban wetland roles as sources or sinks of GHG. However, it is unclear if their effects can be detected in highly variable conditions in a field setting. Here we use an extensive data set on carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), and nitrous oxide (N2O) flux in sediment cores (n = 103) collected from 10 urban wetlands in Melbourne, Australia during summer and winter in order to test for invertebrate enhancement of GHG flux. We detected significant multiplicative enhancement effects of temperature, sediment carbon content, and invertebrate density on CH4 and CO2 flux. Each doubling in density of oligochaete worms or large benthic invertebrates (oligochaete worms and midge larvae) corresponded to ∼42% and ∼15% increases in average CH4 and CO2 flux, respectively. However, despite exceptionally high densities, invertebrates did not appear to enhance N2O flux. This was likely due to fairly high organic carbon content in sediments (range 2.1-12.6%), and relatively low nitrate availability (median 1.96 μmol/L NO3--N), which highlights the context-dependent nature of community structural effects on ecosystem function. The invertebrates enhancing GHG flux in this study are ubiquitous, and frequently dominate faunal communities in impaired aquatic ecosystems. Therefore, invertebrate effects on CO2 and CH4 flux may be common in wetlands impacted by urbanization, and urban wetlands may make greater contributions to the total GHG budgets of cities if the negative impacts of urbanization on wetlands are left unchecked.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1852-1861
Number of pages10
JournalEcological Applications
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sep 2017


  • carbon dioxide
  • Chironomidae
  • climate change
  • constructed wetland
  • golf course
  • methane
  • Naididae
  • nitrous oxide
  • Oligochaeta
  • Tubificidae
  • Tubificinae
  • urbanization

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