Belowground biota responses to maize biochar addition to the soil of a Mediterranean vineyard

Pilar Andrés, Antoni Rosell-Melé, Ferran Colomer-Ventura, Karolien Denef, M. Francesca Cotrufo, Miquel Riba, Josep M. Alcañiz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearch

24 Citations (Scopus)


© 2019 Elsevier B.V. Biochar is a high carbon material resulting from biomass pyrolysis that, when applied to croplands, can increase soil carbon and soil water retention. Both effects are of critical importance in semi-arid regions, where carbon decline and desertification are the main drivers of soil degradation. Since most environmental services provided by soil are mediated by belowground biota, effects of biochar on soil microbial and invertebrate communities must be evaluated under field conditions before its agricultural application can be recommended. We tested maize biochar for its mid-term effect on soil microbes and micro-arthropods of a Mediterranean vineyard. We applied biochar to three field plots with neutral sandy loam soils at a dose of 5 Mg ha −1 . During two years, we monitored the abundance of functional groups of soil micro-arthropods and estimated the biomass of soil microbial groups. We also analyzed the δ 13 C value of microbial PLFA biomarkers to determine biochar-C utilization by each microbial group taking advantage of the δ 13 C natural abundance differences between the applied biochar and the soil. Biochar addition significantly reduced soil microbial biomass but did not alter the functional microbial diversity nor the abundance or biodiversity of soil micro-arthropods. The contribution of biochar-C to the diet of most microbial groups was very low through the monitoring period. However, two gram-negative bacterial groups increased their biochar-derived carbon uptake under extreme soil dryness, which suggests that biochar-C might help soil microbes to overcome the food shortage caused by drought. The decrease in microbial biomass observed in our experiment and the concomitant decrease of SOM mineralization could contribute to the carbon sequestration potential of Mediterranean soils after biochar addition.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1522-1532
JournalScience of the total environment
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2019


  • Biochar
  • Mediterranean soils
  • Microbial biochar utilization
  • PLFA
  • Soil biota
  • Soil microbial biomass


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