Soil microorganisms mediate many processes such as nitrification, denitrification, and methanogenesis that regulate ecosystem functioning and also feed back to influence atmospheric chemistry. These processes are of particular interest in freshwater wetland ecosystems where nutrient cycling is highly responsive to fluctuating hydrology and nutrients and soil gas releases may be sensitive to climate warming. In this review we briefly summarize research from process and taxonomic approaches to the study of wetland biogeochemistry and microbial ecology, and highlight areas where further research is needed to increase our mechanistic understanding of wetland system functioning. Research in wetland biogeochemistry has most often been focused on processes (e.g., methanogenesis), and less often on microbial communities or on populations of specific microorganisms of interest. Research on process has focused on controls over, and rates of, denitrification, methanogenesis, and methanotrophy. There has been some work on sulfate and iron transformations and wetland enzyme activities. Work to date indicates an important process level role for hydrology and soil nutrient status. The impact of plant species composition on processes is potentially critical, but is as yet poorly understood. Research on microbial communities in wetland soils has primarily focused on bacteria responsible for methanogenesis, denitrification, and sulfate reduction. There has been less work on taxonomic groups such as those responsible for nitrogen fixation, or aerobic processes such as nitrification. Work on general community composition and on wetland mycorrhizal fungi is particularly sparse. The general goal of microbial research has been to understand how microbial groups respond to the environment. There has been relatively little work done on the interactions among environmental controls over process rates, environmental constraints on microbial activities and community composition, and changes in processes at the ecosystem level. Finding ways to link process-based and biochemical or gene-based assays is becoming increasingly important as we seek a mechanistic understanding of the response of wetland ecosystems to current and future anthropogenic perturbations. We discuss the potential of new approaches, and highlight areas for further research.
Keywords: Microbial ecology Wetlands Microbial function Wetland ecology Nitrification Denitrification Methanogenesis Microbial communities Mycorrhizal fungi