Submitted to: Quarterly Review of Biology
Publication Type: Review Article
Publication Acceptance Date: 5/16/2017
Publication Date: 9/1/2017
Citation: White, K.E., Millner, P.D. 2017. Book review of biochar application: Essential soil microbiology. Quarterly Review of Biology. 92:336-337.
Technical Abstract: Biochar, charcoal produced following biomass pyrolysis, has the potential to positively impact soil physical and chemical properties, improving soil fertility and water holding capacity as well as adsorbing contaminants. In addition, a large proportion of biochar carbon is highly recalcitrant and stable in soil which could contribute to long term carbon sequestration. While much work has focused on characterizing biochar composition, the measurement of biochar carbon in soil, and on biochar effects on soil properties and crop growth, there is less information in the literature on the effect of biochar application on soil microorganisms and microbial ecology. This book helps to fill that gap by providing a comprehensive examination using current methodologies of the effect of biochar application on soil microbial communities and ecosystems. The book begins with a review of potential beneficial uses of biochar, differences in biochar properties due to varying feedstocks and production process and the impact of those differences on microbial communities. The following chapters explore the use of important tools such as phospholipid fatty acid analysis (PLFA), culturable community analysis combined with denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (DGGE), next generation sequencing, and metagenomics; demonstrating their effectiveness and limitations in biochar amended soils and identifying knowledge gaps and areas of future research needs. For example, one chapter is devoted to the use of PFLA to quantitatively assess microbial community responses to biochar amendment, however the chapter authors recognize and discuss the method’s limitations, emphasize the importance of proper data handling and caution against misinterpretation of results. Overall, these chapters should be helpful to researchers seeking to understand the application of cutting edge tools to the study of biochar amended soils. The book then goes on to examine the effect of biochar on rhizosphere ecology and microbially mediated soil processes such as nitrogen cycling in agroecosystems and bioremediation of contaminated soils. Many key research needs identified include improved understanding of the impact of biochar additions on rhizosphere community structure affecting nutrient cycling and plant growth, such as the specific means by which nitrogen cycling organisms interact with biochar carbon, and exploring the role of biochar feedstocks and physicochemical properties on microbial communities responsible for nutrient cycling and contaminant remediation. In addition, the effect of biochar amendment on meso- and macrofauna is reviewed. Finally, the book addresses policy considerations and makes recommendations for a policy framework for biochar utilization that considers its impact to soil microbial ecology. This book helps to fill a gap in discussions regarding biochar utilization by expressly considering the soil biota and ecology. Overall, it is an excellent compendium of recent research into the effects of biochar addition on soil microbial ecology. The book will be of interest to microbial ecologists, soil scientists, as well as to other researchers studying biochar utilization and the impact of biochar application on the soil ecosystem.