Project Description

This project is fundamentally concerned with understanding the carbon cycle in peat wetland (including blanket bog) microbial ecosystems – both restored and naturally produced. We can see archaea playing two key roles:

  1. They are critical for methanogenesis – the pathway for conversion of deposited organic carbon into methane, a greenhouse gas. Because peatlands are highly anaerobic this process might be expected to dominate. Methanogenesis leads to slow release of carbon from organic material in a fully functioning wetland ecosystem.
  2. Archaea may also play a role in the sequestration of methane into both soil organic matter (SOM) and carbon dioxide in such an ecosystem. While the role of eubacteria in this activity is well established, the function of archaea in also facilitating sequestration of methane is relatively novel.

The critical division between (1) and (2) is the presence or absence of oxygen: (1) is anaerobic, (2) tends to be aerobic. Yet, functioning peatlands are considered as net carbon sinks:  so here we expect anaerobic methanogensis  to be rate limiting to the aerobic process. In restored or drained peatland however, this may not be the case.  Carbon turnover in drained or highly aerobic peatland may utilise other, faster carbon release mechanisms to generate carbon dioxide.

In this project we hypothesise that the profile of archaeal microbial communities can be used as a diagnostic tool to differentiate between a restored and naturally occurring peat wetland. If this is the case, then the profiling of archaeal communities in a restored peatland may be a useful tool to validate the peatland restoration process. We will use metagenomic analysis to directly assess the relative roles of these communities – both in terms of abundance and functional gene activities. We propose that the differences between restored peat wetland, drained/non-restored wetland, and ancient/undamaged wetland, will be quantitatively measurable and definitive in terms of the profile of archaeal communities present. Peatland/blanket bog sites have already been identified in Northern Ireland that can be employed in this study.


  • Applicants should have a 2.1 honours degree in microbiology, bioinformatics or equivalent
  • Experience and training microbial bioinformatic processes related to soil metagenomics
  • A demonstrated interest in the microbiology of archaea
  • Environmentally aware and understanding of carbon sequestration approaches

Photo by K B on Unsplash


Primary Supervisor:

Professor Chris Allen, Queen’s University Belfast, IGFS/Biological Sciences


Cécile Gubry-Rangin

Secondary Supervisor:

Profile: Cécile Gubry-Rangin
Institution: University of Aberdeen
Department/School: School of Biological Sciences

Rory Doherty

Additional Supervisor:

Profile: Rory Doherty
Institution: Queen's University, Belfast
Department/School: School of Natural and Built Environment


Dandare S., Young J.M., Kelleher, B., Allen, C.C.R. (2019) The distribution of novel bacterial laccases in alpine paleosols is directly related to soil stratigraphy. Science of the Total Environment. 671 p19.

Sheridan P.O., Meng, Y., Williams, T.A, Gubry-Rangin, C. (2023) Genomics of soil depth niche partitioning in the Thaumarchaeota family Gagatemarchaeaceae. Nature Communications. 14 (1)  p7305.

McAnallen, L., Doherty, R., Donohue, S., Kirmizakis, P. & Mendonça, C., (2018) Combined use of geophysical and geochemical methods to assess areas of active, degrading and restored blanket bog.  Science of the Total Environment. 621, p762


  • biodiversity
  • earth-systems
  • environmental-management

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