Biochar addition to forest plantation soil enhances phosphorus availability and soil bacterial community diversity

Chuifan Zhou, Katherine Heal, Mulualem Tigabu, Lidan Xia, Huaying Hu, Danyang Yin, Xiangqing Ma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Depletion of soil nutrients is a major cause of decline in productivity of forest plantations in successive rotations. Biochar amendment in agricultural systems has been shown to yield various beneficial effects, including increasing soil phosphorus (P) availability. However, the direct and indirect effects of biochar addition on forest soil P dynamics have largely been unexplored. The objective of this study was to examine how biochar produced from harvest residue (leaves and woodchips) affect the P dynamics in second rotation Cunninghamia lanceolata (Chinese fir) plantation soil. An incubation experiment which involved mixing of forest soil with 1% or 3% w/w leaf or woodchip biochar, pyrolyzed at 300 °C or 600 °C, was conducted for 80 days at 20 °C. After 7, 40 and 80 days of incubation, soil samples were analyzed for total and available P, inorganic and organic P pools, and soil phosphatase activity. At the end of the incubation period, bacterial community composition and diversity were analyzed by 16S rDNA sequencing. The leaf biochar produced at both pyrolysis temperatures was more alkaline and had significantly higher soluble P, nitrogen and calcium contents than the woodchip biochar. Soil total and available P increased significantly in all leaf biochar treatments after 80 days incubation compared to the untreated control soil, but the woodchip biochar treatments had no significant effects. At the end of the experiment, Al-P content was significantly lower and Ca10-P content higher in soil amended with both biochar types compared to the control soil, and Fe-P content was significantly higher in the leaf biochar treatments. Contrary to expectations, acid and alkaline phosphatase enzyme activities were significantly lower in some of the biochar treatments after 80 days incubation compared to the control soil. Nevertheless, the diversity of the bacterial community was higher in leaf biochar-amended forest soil than the woodchip biochar-amended and untreated soil at the end of the experiment. In particular, the abundance increased in the leaf biochar soil treatments of P-solubilizing bacteria, such as Burkholderia-Paraburkholderia, Planctomyces, Sphingomonas and Singulisphaera, which can indirectly improve P availability in soil. Thus, conversion of tree harvest residues, particularly leaves, into biochar and recycling back into the soil could be a viable option to boost P availability and help to conserve nutrients or reduce nutrient losses for the next rotation. Before recommending plantation management with biochar, long-term studies are required assessing the life cycle of biochar under field conditions and its promoting effect on growth of C. lanceolata.
Original languageEnglish
Article number117635
JournalForest Ecology and Management
Early online date12 Nov 2019
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2020


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