Previously it was thought that methane was only emitted from the soil surface of these tropical peat forests, but the researchers found significant quantities of methane being released from the stems of seven of the eight tree species studied.
Their findings solve a mystery which has puzzled scientists ever since satellite images showed that there was more methane being emitted from these tropical ecosystems than their measurements suggested there should be.
The new findings suggest that up to 87 percent of the methane emitted by these forests is coming from tree stems.
"This work challenges our previous understanding of how these ecosystems exchange methane with the atmosphere and adds another piece to the tropical methane emission puzzle,” said Dr Vincent Gauci, Senior Lecturer, Earth Systems, and the project’s leader.
"It further shows that for wet tropical forested ecosystems, the like of which span south America, Africa and southeast Asia, researchers may have been missing most of the methane emitted from these ecosystems if they neglected to measure tree stem emissions.”
The findings are set out in a paper by Dr Gauci and Sunitha Pangala, a final year PhD student at The Open University’s Centre for Earth, Planetary, Space and Astronomical Research, together with Dr Sam Moore of Oxford University and Dr Ed Hornibrook of Bristol University.
The paper entitled Trees are major conduits for methane egress from tropical forested wetlands is published in New Phytologist January 2013, Volume 197, Issue 2, pages 524–531,