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Soil and greenhouse gas responses to biochar additions in a temperate hardwood forest

Sackett, T. E., N. Basiliko, G. L.Noyce, C. Winsborough,J. Schurman, C. Ikeda, S. C. Thomas. 2014. GCB Bioenergy


Biochar additions can improve soil fertility and sequester carbon, but biochar effects have been investigated primarily in agricultural systems. Biochar from spruce and maple sawdust feedstocks (with and without inorganic phosphorus in a factorial design) were added to plots in a commercially managed temperate hardwood forest stand in central Ontario, Canada; treatments were applied as a top-dressing immediately prior to fall leaf abscission in September 2011. Forests in this region have acidic, sandy soils, and due to nitrogen deposition may exhibit phosphorus, calcium, and magnesium limitation. To investigate short-term impacts of biochar application on soil nutrient supply and greenhouse gas fluxes as compared to phosphorus fertilization, data were collected over the first year after treatment application; linear mixed models were used to analyze data. Two to six weeks after treatment application there were higher concentrations of potassium in spruce and maple biochar plots, and phosphorus in spruce biochar plots, as compared to the control treatment. There were higher concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus in the phosphorus plots. In the following spring and summer (9-12 months after treatment application), there were higher soil calcium concentrations in maple biochar plots, and phosphorus plots still had higher soil phosphorus concentrations than control plots. No treatment effects on fluxes of carbon dioxide, methane, or nitrous oxide were detected in the field; however, laboratory incubations after 12 months showed higher microbial respiration in soils from maple biochar plots as compared to spruce biochar, despite no effect on microbial biomass. The results suggest that the most important short-term impact of biochar additions in this system is the increased supply of the limiting plant nutrients phosphorus and calcium. We expect that larger changes in mineral soil physical and chemical properties will occur when the surface-applied biochar becomes incorporated in the soil after a few years.

Key Words

Nutrients Phosphorus Calcium Potassium microbial biomass microbial respiration carbon dioxide methane nitrous oxide