Effects of phytolithic rice-straw biochar, soil buffering capacity and pH on silicon bioavailability

  • Zimin LiEmail author
  • Dácil Unzué-Belmonte
  • Jean-Thomas Cornelis
  • Charles Vander Linden
  • Eric Struyf
  • Frederik Ronsse
  • Bruno Delvaux
Regular Article



Supplying phytolith-rich biochar in agrosystems increases soil pH, CEC and nutrient availability, adding to the impact of Si uptake on plant growth. Here we studied this specific impact as influenced by soil properties, and assessed the role of phytoliths to provide plant available Si.


We used a young Cambisol and a highly weathered, poorly buffered, desilicated Nitisol. The biochars were produced from rice plants respectively enriched (Si+) and depleted (Si-) in Si. They had identical pH and nutrient contents, but largely differed in Si content (51.3 g Si kg−1 in Si + vs 0.3 g Si kg−1 in Si-). We compared their effects to that of wollastonite (CaSiO3) on the biomass and mineralomass of wheat plants in a soil:solution:plant device. The contents of soil bioavailable Si and biogenic Si were assessed through an original CaCl2 kinetic extraction and the DeMaster Na2CO3 alkaline dissolution, respectively.


The DeMaster technique dissolved Si from phytolith as well as from wollastonite. The soil buffering capacity (cmolc kg−1) was 31 in the Cambisol and 0.2 in the Nitisol. An identical supply of phytolithic biochar increased pH from 4.5 to 4.8 in the Cambisol, and from 4.8 to 7.4 in NI. It further increased the content of bioavailable Si (from 55 to 97 mg kg−1 in the Cambisol, and 36 to 209 mg kg−1 in the Nitisol), as well as plant Si uptake, biomass and Si mineralomass. That increase was largest in the Nitisol.


The DeMaster technique did not specifically quantify the phytolith pool. This pool was the main source of plant available Si in both the Cambisol and Nitisol amended with phytolithic biochar. At identical phytolithic Si supply, however, soil pH and soil buffering capacity controlled the transfer of Si in the soil-plant system, which was largest in the poorly buffered Nitisol. The effect of phytolithic biochar on Si bioavailability was depending on soil constituents and properties, and thus on soil type.


Biochar Phytolith Si bioavailability pH Soil buffering capacity 



We thank A. Iserentant and C. Givron for laboratory assistance (UCL), and M. Capelle for technical advice (UCL), as well as M. Pala for biochar preparation (Ghent University). Z. Li is supported by the ‘Fonds Spécial de Recherche’ of the UCL in 2014-2015 and the ‘Fonds National de la Recherche Scientifique’ (FNRS) of Belgium in 2015-2019. D.U.B would like to thank BELSPO for funding the project SOGLO (The soil system under global change, P7/24). We thank the reviewers for their helpful comments to improve the manuscript, and the Editor-in-Chief for his pertinent advices. All authors contributed to paper writing and revision.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest.

Supplementary material

11104_2019_4013_MOESM1_ESM.docx (111 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 111 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Earth and Life Institute, Soil ScienceUniversité catholique de Louvain (UCL)Louvain-La-NeuveBelgium
  2. 2.Ecosystem Management Research Group, Department of BiologyUniversity of AntwerpWilrijkBelgium
  3. 3.BIOSE department, Gembloux Agro-Bio TechUniversity of LiegeGemblouxBelgium
  4. 4.Department of Biosystems Engineering, Faculty of Bioscience EngineeringGhent UniversityGhentBelgium

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