C mineralization and microbial activity in four biochar field experiments several years after incorporation

Ameloot, Nele; Sleutel, Steven; Case, Sean D.C.; Alberti, Giorgio; McNamara, Niall P.; Zavalloni, Costanza; Vervisch, Bram; Vedove, Gemini delle; De Neve, Stefaan. 2014 C mineralization and microbial activity in four biochar field experiments several years after incorporation. Soil Biology and Biochemistry, 78. 195-203.

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Most studies looking into the effect of amendment of biochar on soil microbial functioning employ short-term laboratory studies and probably describe relatively transient phenomena. Multi-year experiments, spanning beyond initial degradation of biologically labile biochar constituents, on the other hand are more scarce, although these are much needed to establish the medium-term effect of biochar on soil organisms. In the present study, soil was sampled from biochar-amended and control plots of four biochar field trials at Lincoln (UK), Rivignano, Rocca Bernarda and Beano in Italy. Air-dried pre-incubated soil samples were incubated at 15 °C for 8–9 weeks to follow-up carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. We then determined soil β-glucosidase and dehydrogenase enzyme activity, and used PLFA analysis to quantify the total soil microbial biomass and community structure. The analysis indicated that soil microbial activity was either not affected or inhibited to different extents in the biochar-amended plots. At Lincoln, with the highest application rate (49 t ha−1), an overall inhibition of all investigated measures of microbial activity, a lower sum of extracted PLFAs and lower fungal abundance were observed. On the other end at Beano, depth dispersion of biochar by deep tillage and a lower application rate (20 t ha−1) probably explain the absence of any significant effect on microbial activity in that experiment. At Rivignano and Rocca Bernarda, dehydrogenase activity was lower in the biochar amended soil and C-mineralization was lower as well for Rivignano. Interestingly, however, β-glucosidase activity and the sum of extracted PLFAs was not affected by biochar treatment. Several mechanisms could reconcile the different effect of biochar application on overall microbial activity on the one hand and microbial abundance and rate of cellulose degradation on the other. Biochar amendment led to a lowered or equal soil microbial activity and abundance in most field sites. In contrast to many short-term laboratory studies, it therefore seems unlikely that biochar would still function as a substrate 1–4 years after incorporation in the field.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
UKCEH and CEH Sections/Science Areas: Shore
ISSN: 0038-0717
NORA Subject Terms: Agriculture and Soil Science
Related URLs:
Date made live: 11 Mar 2015 13:42 +0 (UTC)

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