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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract - Waste Management

Effects of Biochar Amendments on Soil Microbial Biomass and Activity


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 43 No. 6, p. 2104-2114
    Received: Mar 26, 2014
    Published: November 10, 2014

    * Corresponding author(s): hongjie@uoguelph.ca
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  1. H. Zhang *a,
  2. R. P. Voroneya and
  3. G. W. Priceb
  1. a School of Environmental Sciences, Univ. of Guelph, Guelph, ON, Canada N1G 2W1
    b Faculty of Agriculture, Dalhousie Univ., Truro, NS, Canada B2N 5E3


Environmental benefits reported in the literature of using biochar as a soil amendment are generally increased microbial activity and reduced greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This study determined the effects of amendment with biomass feedstocks (spent coffee grounds, wood pellets, and horse bedding compost) and that of biochars (700°C) produced from these feedstocks on soil microbial biomass (C and N) and activity. Soils were amended with these substrates at 0.75% by weight and incubated for up to 175 d under laboratory conditions. Biochar residual effects on soil microbial activity were also studied by amending these soils with either ammonium nitrate (NH4NO3, 35 mg N kg−1) or with glucose (864 mg C kg−1) plus NH4NO3. Soil microbial biomass C and N, net N mineralization, and CO2, N2O, and CH4 emissions were measured. Amendment with biomass feedstocks significantly increased soil microbial biomass and activity, whereas amendment with the biochars had no significant effect. Also, biochar amendment had no significant effect on either net N mineralization or N2O and CH4 emissions from soil. These results indicate that production of biochars at this high temperature eliminated potential substrates. Microbial biomass C in biochar-amended and unamended soils was not significantly different following additions of NH4NO3 or glucose plus NH4NO3, suggesting that microbial access to otherwise labile C and N was not affected. This study shows that biochars produced at 700°C, regardless of feedstock source, do not enhance soil microbial biomass or activity.

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Copyright © 2014. Copyright © by the American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America, and Soil Science Society of America, Inc.