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ARS Home » Midwest Area » St. Paul, Minnesota » Soil and Water Management Research » Research » Publications at this Location » Publication #302671

Title: Assessing microbial contributions to N2O impacts following biochar additions

item LIN, XIURONG - Sun Yat-Sen University
item Spokas, Kurt
item Venterea, Rodney - Rod
item ZHANG, RENDUO - Sun Yat-Sen University
item Baker, John
item Feyereisen, Gary

Submitted to: Agronomy
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: 10/22/2014
Publication Date: 11/7/2014
Publication URL:
Citation: Lin, X., Spokas, K.A., Venterea, R.T., Zhang, R., Baker, J.M., Feyereisen, G.W. 2014. Assessing microbial contributions to N2O impacts following biochar additions. Agronomy. 4:478-496.

Interpretive Summary: Biochar is the solid residual produced from the pyrolysis of biomass, which is focused on the utility of the residue as a vehicle for carbon sequestration. In addition, laboratory and some field results have shown statistically significant impacts in the avaiability of soil nutrients and the production of some greenhouse gases, particularly N2O, following biochar additions. There have been several hypotheses into the potential mechanisms causing these effects. The primary focus has been on improved CEC, pH alterations, improved aeration, and microbial community alterations of the amedned soil. However, recent laboratory studies involving soils and biochars from around the globe have provided additional insight into other potential mechanisms. One of these is the importance of abiotic denitrification by carbon-iron complexes. These results along with previous hypotheses provide a glimpse into the complicated interactions of soil-biochar chemistries and microbial associations. This leads to the conclusion that multiple simultaneous processes are occurring and emphasize the fact that potentially different mechanisms are active in each unique soil-biochar mixture. These results are significant to farmers and policy makers and will assist scientists and engineers in developing improved biochars based on properties to improve soil carbon management and accurate predictions of the impact of biochars on net greenhouse gas exchanges following soil addition.

Technical Abstract: Varying degrees of soil nitrous oxide (N2O) mitigation have been observed following biochar applications. However, the mechanisms of biochar influence on soil and microbial N2O production have not been fully elucidated. The aim of this study was to examine the impact of a biochar addition on soil N2O production on 3 different soil types and to assess the relative contributions of bacteria and fungi to this alteration. Laboratory incubation experiments were conducted using soils from agricultural field, forest, prairie, and a sterilized sand. These 4 soils possessed a range of N2O production potentials. Soils were amended with a fast-pyrolysis macadamia nut shell biochar (10% w/w). Selective chemical inhibitors were used to distinguish the relative contributions of fungal and bacterial groups to N2O production/suppression in each soil type following biochar addition. Overall, suppressed production of N2O was initially observed between the agricultural and prairie soils. On the other hand, the forest soil had higher net N2O production following biochar addition. Incidentally, there was a small quantity of N2O (4.0 ng-N/g soil/day) produced by the sterilized sand over the 90 day incubation. After subtracting the biochar + sterilized sand production from the forest soil+biochar, N2O production following biochar addition was consequently lower than the control forest soil. In terms of the microbial contributions, there were no significant differences in N2O production between the microbial inhibitor treatments across the three soils, despite differences in the CO2 production rates. Therefore, the response in the N2O production could not be directly attributed to a particular microbial group (fungi or bacteria). From the incubations in the absence of soil microbial populations, we did observe the abitoic production of N2O and N2, which was coupled with the loss of nitrate/nitrite. The results presented here suggest the presence of abiotic production and consumption routes for nitrogen species in biochar amended soils, which for the forest soil-biochar combinations were more important than the alterations in microbial nitrification/denitrification functional dynamics.