Global warming is expected to increase the rate of CH4
emission from acidic peatlands leading to an increased interest on its mechanisms of formation. The main routes are through the reduction of CO2
by molecular hydrogen and through the cleavage of acetate. A predominance of the former, a reaction which also competes with homoacetogenesis to form acetate, may enrich the media in acetate, which could potentially be incorporated in the peat molecular markers. Acetates of triterpenoid biomarkers have been identified in peats and lake sediments and related to the input of higher plants. Nevertheless, the acetyl derivatives are found in very low amounts in fresh plants and in much lower amount than other derivatives with alcohol or ketone functional groups. The dichloromethane/methanol extracts of Asturian peat bog profiles (North Spain) were analyzed using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry (GC/MS) and compound-specific-isotope-analysis (CSIA). They show abundance of acetates of compounds with oleanane, ursane, and lupane skeletons derived from higher plants and with hopane skeleton, which can be considered a characteristic of these peats. Two families of 3-oxyhopenyl acetates with -17(21)- and -22(29)- configurations were detected in the upper part of the peat profiles, having a δ13
C isotopic composition enriched by 4‰ compared with that of higher plant triterpenoids, and similar to that of microorganism-derived regular hopanoids. Both the acetate and ketone derivatives with the oxygenated functionality at C-3 were generally present in a given extract and tended to accumulate at certain depth in the profiles and in specific levels. The widespread occurrence of acetyl-derivatives, their higher concentration in the deeper layers of the peat, the fact that the acetates correspond to different compound families of diverse source and the very low amount of acetates identified in Ericaceae-contributing to the peat compared to the alcohols suggest that they were formed in the peat under particularly favorable environmental conditions. We postulate that these conditions could have been the existence of a medium enriched in acetic acid produced by the dominance of hydrogenotrophic methanogenesis and/or homoacetogenesis over acetoclastic methanogenesis. This phenomenon that has been preferentially described in Sphagnum
bogs at high latitudes, and in the deeper layers of peat, appears to be also present in the temperate peats of the Asturian coast.
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