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Animals 2018, 8(4), 46; https://doi.org/10.3390/ani8040046

Can a Red Wood-Ant Nest Be Associated with Fault-Related CH4 Micro-Seepage? A Case Study from Continuous Short-Term In-Situ Sampling

1
Image Analysis Group, Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Information Technology, Technical University of Dortmund, 44221 Dortmund, Germany
2
Harvard Forest, Harvard University, 324 North Main Street, Petersham, MA 01366, USA
3
IT-Consulting Berberich, 50374 Erftstadt, Germany
*
Author to whom correspondence should be addressed.
Received: 20 February 2018 / Revised: 19 March 2018 / Accepted: 25 March 2018 / Published: 28 March 2018
(This article belongs to the Special Issue Animal Behavior and Natural Disasters)
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Simple Summary

Methane (CH4) is common on Earth but its natural sources are not well-characterized. We investigated concentrations of CH4 and its stable carbon isotope (δ13C-CH4) within a red wood-ant (RWA; Formica polyctena) nest in the Neuwied Basin, a part of the East Eifel Volcanic Field (EEVF), and tested for associations between methane concentration and RWA activity patterns, earthquakes, and earth tides. Methane degassing was not synchronized with earth tides, nor was it influenced by a micro-earthquake or RWA activity. Elevated CH4 concentrations in nest gas appear to result from a combination of microbial activity and fault-related emissions. The latter could result from micro-seepage of methane derived from low-temperature gas-water-rock reactions that subsequently moves via fault networks through the RWA nest or from overlapping micro-seepage of magmatic CH4 from the Eifel plume. Given the abundance of RWA nests on the landscape, their role as sources of microbial CH4 and biological indicators for abiotically-derived CH4 should be included in estimations of methane emissions that are contributing to climatic change.

Abstract

We measured methane (CH4) and stable carbon isotope of methane (δ13C-CH4) concentrations in ambient air and within a red wood-ant (RWA; Formica polyctena) nest in the Neuwied Basin (Germany) using high-resolution in-situ sampling to detect microbial, thermogenic, and abiotic fault-related micro-seepage of CH4. Methane degassing from RWA nests was not synchronized with earth tides, nor was it influenced by micro-earthquake degassing or concomitantly measured RWA activity. Two δ13C-CH4 signatures were identified in nest gas: −69‰ and −37‰. The lower peak was attributed to microbial decomposition of organic matter within the RWA nest, in line with previous observations that RWA nests are hot-spots of microbial CH4. The higher peak has not been reported in previous studies. We attribute this peak to fault-related CH4 emissions moving via fault networks into the RWA nest, which could originate either from thermogenic or abiotic CH4 formation. Sources of these micro-seepages could be Devonian schists, iron-bearing “Klerf Schichten”, or overlapping micro-seepage of magmatic CH4 from the Eifel plume. Given the abundance of RWA nests on the landscape, their role as sources of microbial CH4 and biological indicators for abiotically-derived CH4 should be included in estimation of methane emissions that are contributing to climatic change. View Full-Text
Keywords: red wood ants; Formica polyctena; CH4; δ 13C-CH4; fault; activity pattern red wood ants; Formica polyctena; CH4; δ 13C-CH4; fault; activity pattern
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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. (CC BY 4.0).
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MDPI and ACS Style

Berberich, G.M.; Ellison, A.M.; Berberich, M.B.; Grumpe, A.; Becker, A.; Wöhler, C. Can a Red Wood-Ant Nest Be Associated with Fault-Related CH4 Micro-Seepage? A Case Study from Continuous Short-Term In-Situ Sampling. Animals 2018, 8, 46.

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