Long-term effects of gasification biochar application on soil functions in a Mediterranean agroecosystem: Higher addition rates sequester more carbon but pose a risk to soil faunal communities

Alba Llovet*, Stefania Mattana, Juan Chin-Pampillo, Gabriel Gascó, Sara Sánchez, Claudio Mondini, María Jesús Iglesias Briones, Laura Márquez, Josep Maria Alcañiz, Angela Ribas, Xavier Domene

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

Abstract

Biochar applications can have important implications for many of the soil functions upon which agroecosystems rely, particularly regarding organic carbon storage. This study evaluated the impacts of adding a highly aromatic gasification biochar at different rates (0, 12 and 50 t ha-1) to a barley crop on the provision of crucial soil functions (carbon sequestration, water content, greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient cycling, soil food web functioning, and food production). After natural ageing in the field for six years, a wide range of soil properties representative of the studied soil functions were measured and integrated into a soil quality index. Results showed that C sequestration increased with biochar rate (23 and 68% higher than in the control for the 12 and 50 t biochar ha-1 treatments, respectively). Water content was enhanced at the 50 t ha-1 treatment depending on the sampling date. Despite biochar additions neither abating nor increasing CO2 equivalent emissions (carbon dioxide plus nitrous oxide and methane), the system shifted from being a methane sink (-0.017 ± 0.01 mg CH4-C m-2 h-1 at the 12 t ha-1 treatment), to a net source (0.025 ± 0.02 mg CH4-C m-2 h-1 at the 50 t ha-1 treatment). In addition, biochar ageing provoked a loss of nitrate mitigation potential, and indeed ammonium production was stimulated at the 50 t ha-1 rate. The 50 t ha-1 treatment also adversely affected nematode and collembolan functional diversity. Lastly, biochar did not affect barley yield. The results of the soil quality index indicated that no biochar treatment provided more benefits to our agricultural soil, and, although the 50 t ha-1 treatment increased C sequestration, this was potentially offset by its harmful effects on soil faunal communities. Therefore, application of this biochar at high rates should be avoided to prevent risks to soil biological communities.

Original languageEnglish
Article number149580
JournalScience of the total environment
Volume801
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 20 Dec 2021

Keywords

  • Ageing
  • Gasification biochar
  • Greenhouse gas
  • Nutrient cycling
  • Soil food web
  • Soil functions

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