Plant and Soil

, Volume 354, Issue 1–2, pp 311–324 | Cite as

Decreased soil microbial biomass and nitrogen mineralisation with Eucalyptus biochar addition to a coarse textured soil

  • D. N. DempsterEmail author
  • D. B. Gleeson
  • Z. M. Solaiman
  • D. L. Jones
  • D. V. Murphy
Regular Article


Background and Aims

Biochar has been shown to aid soil fertility and crop production in some circumstances. We investigated effects of the addition of Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata) biochar to a coarse textured soil on soil carbon and nitrogen dynamics.


Wheat was grown for 10 weeks, in soil treated with biochar (0, 5, or 25 t ha−1) in full factorial combination with nitrogen (N) treatments (organic N, inorganic N, or control). Samples were analysed for plant biomass, soil microbial biomass carbon (MBC) and nitrogen (MBN), N mineralisation, CO2 evolution, community level physiological profiles (CLPP) and ammonia oxidising bacterial community structure.


MBC significantly decreased with biochar addition while MBN was unaltered. Net N mineralisation was highest in control soil and significantly decreased with increasing addition of biochar. These findings could not be attributed to sorption of inorganic N to biochar. CO2 evolution decreased with 5 t ha−1 biochar but not 25 t ha−1. Biochar addition at 25 t ha−1 changed the CLPP, while the ammonia oxidising bacterial community structure changed only when biochar was added with a N source.


We conclude that the activity of the microbial community decreased in the presence of biochar, through decreased soil organic matter decomposition and N mineralisation which may have been caused by the decreased MBC.


Black carbon Fertility Surface area Sorption Nitrogen cycling Priming effect 



analysis of variance


ammonia oxidising bacteria


black carbon


community level physiological profile


Duncan’s multiple range test


electrical conductivity


infra-red gas analyser


microbial biomass carbon


microbial biomass nitrogen


polymerase chain reaction


permutational analysis of variance


terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism


water holding capacity



DND and DVM were funded by the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC) and DBG by an Australian Research Council (ARC) Discovery Grant (DP0985832). DLJ was funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. The authors thank Prof. R.J. Gilkes for his characterisation advice and Dr Y. Sawada and Mr M.N. Smirk for their technical assistance. The authors also acknowledge Dr P.S. Blackwell, of the Department of Agriculture and Food, Western Australia (DAFWA), for providing the soil, biochar and advice.

Supplementary material

11104_2011_1067_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (5 kb)
Esm. 1 (PDF 5.07 kb)
11104_2011_1067_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (8 kb)
Esm. 2 (PDF 8 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • D. N. Dempster
    • 1
    Email author
  • D. B. Gleeson
    • 1
  • Z. M. Solaiman
    • 1
  • D. L. Jones
    • 2
  • D. V. Murphy
    • 1
  1. 1.Soil Biology Group, School of Earth and Environment, UWA Institute of Agriculture, Faculty of Natural and Agricultural SciencesThe University of Western AustraliaCrawleyAustralia
  2. 2.School of the Environment, Natural Resources and Geography, Environment Centre WalesBangor UniversityGwyneddUK

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