Journal of Soils and Sediments

, Volume 14, Issue 3, pp 471–482 | Cite as

Nitrification, acidification, and nitrogen leaching from subtropical cropland soils as affected by rice straw-based biochar: laboratory incubation and column leaching studies

  • Xu ZhaoEmail author
  • Shenqiang WangEmail author
  • Guangxi Xing



Few studies have examined the effects of biochar on nitrification of ammonium-based fertilizer in acidic arable soils, which contributes to NO3 leaching and soil acidification.

Materials and methods

We conducted a 42-day aerobic incubation and a 119-day weekly leaching experiment to investigate nitrification, N leaching, and soil acidification in two subtropical soils to which 300 mg N kg−1 ammonium sulfate or urea and 1 or 5 wt% rice straw biochar were applied.

Results and discussion

During aerobic incubation, NO3 accumulation was enhanced by applying biochar in increasing amounts from 1 to 5 wt%. As a result, pH decreased in the two soils from the original levels. Under leaching conditions, biochar did not increase NO3 , but 5 wt% biochar addition did reduce N leaching compared to that in soils treated with only N. Consistently, lower amounts of added N were recovered from the incubation (KCl-extractable N) and leaching (leaching plus KCl-extractable N) experiments following 5 wt% biochar application compared to soils treated with only N.


Incorporating biochar into acidic arable soils accelerates nitrification and thus weakens the liming effects of biochar. The enhanced nitrification does not necessarily increase NO3 leaching. Rather, biochar reduces overall N leaching due to both improved N adsorption and increased unaccounted-for N (immobilization and possible gaseous losses). Further studies are necessary to assess the effects of biochar (when used as an addition to soil) on N.


Acidic arable soil Ammonium-based fertilizer Nitrification NO3 leaching Rice straw biochar Soil pH 



We sincerely thank the anonymous reviewers for their valuable suggestions that have greatly improved the manuscript. The authors acknowledge the financial support provided by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (grants 41001147 and 41271312), the Knowledge Innovation Program of the Institute of Soil Science of Chinese Academy of Sciences (grant Y112000010), and National Key Technology R&D Program of China (SQ2011BAJY3104 and 2013BAD11B00).


  1. Adams F (1984) Soil acidity and liming. American Society of Agronomy, Crop Science Society of America and Soil Science Society of America, MadisonGoogle Scholar
  2. Anderson CR, Condron LM, Clough TJ, Fier M, Stewart A, Hill RA, Sherlock RR (2011) Biochar induced soil microbial community change: implications for biogeochemical cycling of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus. Pedobiologia 54:209–320CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Ball PN, Mackenzie MD, DeLuca TH, Holben WE (2010) Wildfire and charcoal enhance nitrification and ammonium-oxidizing bacterial abundance in dry montane forest soil. J Environ Qual 39:1243–1253CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Berglund LM, DeLuca TH, Zackrisson O (2004) Activated carbon amendments of soil alters nitrification rates in Scots pine forests. Soil Biol Biochem 36:2067–2073CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Chan KY, Van Zwieten L, Meszaros I, Downie A, Joseph S (2007) Agronomic values of greenwaste biochar as a soil amendment. Aust J Soil Res 45:629–634CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chen CR, Phillips IR, Condron LM, Goloran J, Xu ZH, Chan KY (2012) Impacts of greenwaste biochar on ammonia volatilization from bauxite processing residue sand. Plant Soil. doi: 10.1007/S11104-012-1468-0 Google Scholar
  7. Clough TJ, Condron LM (2010) Biochar and the nitrogen cycle: introduction. J Environ Qual 39:1218–1223CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. DeLuca TH, Sala A (2006) Frequent fire alters nitrogen transformations in ponderosa pine stands of the inland northwest. Ecology 87:2511–2522CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. DeLuca TH, MacKenzie MD, Gundale MJ, Holben WE (2006) Wildfire-produced charcoal directly influences nitrogen cycling in ponderosa pine forests. Soil Sci Soc AM J 70:448–453CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Ding Y, Liu YX, Wu WX, Shi DZ, Yang M, Zhong ZK (2010) Evaluation of biochar effects on nitrogen retention and leaching in multi-layered soil columns. Water Air Soil Pollut 213:47–55CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Firestone MK, Firestone RB, Tiedje JM (1980) Nitrous oxide production from soil denitrification: factors controlling its biological production. Science 208:749–751CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Glaser B, Lehmann J, Zech W (2002) Ameliorating physical and chemical properties of highly weathered soils in the tropics with charcoal—a review. Biol Fert Soils 35:219–230CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Guo JH, Liu XJ, Zhang Y, Shen JL, Han WX, Zhang WF, Christie P, Goulding KWT, Vitousek PM, Zhang FS (2010) Significant acidification in major Chinese croplands. Science 327:1008–1010CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ju XT, Xing GX, Chen XP, Zhang SL, Zhang LJ, Liu XJ, Cui ZL, Yin B, Christie P, Zhu ZL, Zhang FS (2009) Reducing environmental risk by improving N management in intensive Chinese agricultural systems. PNAS 106:3041–3046CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Kameyama K, Miyamoto T, Shiono T, Shinogi Y (2012) Influence of sugarcane bagasse-derived biochar application on nitrate leaching in calcaric dark red soil. J Environ Qual 41(4):1131–1137Google Scholar
  16. Kleiner K (2009) The bright prospect of biochar. Nat Rep Clim Change. doi: 10.1038/climate.2009.48, Published online: 21 May 2009Google Scholar
  17. Larid D, Fleming P, Wang B, Horton R, Karlen D (2010) Biochar impact on nutrient leaching from a Midwestern agricultural soil. Geoderma 158:436–442CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Lehmann J, Joseph S (2009) Biochar for environmental management: science and technology. Earthscan, LondonGoogle Scholar
  19. Lehmann J, da Silva Jr JP, Steiner C, Nehls T, Zech W, Glaser B (2003) Nutrient availability and leaching in an archaeological Anthrosol and a Ferrolsol of the Central Amazon basin: fertilizer, manure and charcoal amendments. Plant Soil 249:343–357CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Liang B, Lehmann J, Solomon D, Kinyangi J, Grossman J, O’Neill B, Skjemstad JO, Thies J, Luizão FJ, Petersen J, Neves EG (2006) Black carbon increases cation exchange capacity in soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J 70:1719–1730CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Lu RK (2000) Soil agro-chemical analyses. Agricultural Technical, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  22. Major J, Rondon M, Monlina D, Riha SJ, Lehmann J (2012) Nutrient leaching in a Colombian savanna Oxisol amended with biochar. J Environ Qual 41:1076–1086CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Matson PA, McDowell WH, Townsend AR, Vitousek PM (1999) The globalization of N deposition: ecosystem consequences in tropical environments. Biogeochem 46:67–83Google Scholar
  24. Qian C, Cai ZC (2007) Leaching of nitrogen from subtropical soils as affected by nitrification potential and base cations. Plant Soil 300:197–205CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Rondon M, Lehmann J, Ramirez J, Hurtado M (2007) Biological nitrogen fixation by common beans (Phaseolus vulgaris L.) increases with bio-char additions. Biol Fert Soils 43:699–708CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Roseberg RJ, Christensen NW, Jackson TL (1986) Chloride, soil solution osmotic potential, and soil pH effects on nitrification. Soil Sci Soc Am J 50:941–945CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Rowell DL, Wild A (1985) Causes of soil acidification: a summary. Soil Use Manage 1:32–33CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Singh BP, Hatton BJ, Singh B, Cowie AL, Kathuria A (2010) Influence of biochars on nitrous oxide emission and nitrogen leaching from two contrasting soils. J Environ Qual 39:1224–1235CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Steinbeiss S, Gleixner G, Antonietti M (2009) Effect of biochar amendment on soil carbon balance and soil microbial activity. Soil Biol Biochem 41:1301–1310CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Steiner C, Glaser B, Teixeira WG, Lehmann J, Blum WEH, Zech W (2008) Nitrogen retention and plant uptake on a highly weathered central Amazonian Ferralso amended with compost and charcoal. J Plant Nutri Soil Sci 171:893–899CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Taghizdeh-Toosi A, Clough TJ, Sherlock RR, Condron LM (2012) A wood based low-temperature biochar captures NH3-N generated from ruminant urine-N, retaining its bioavailability. Plant Soil 353:73–84CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Van Zwieten L, Kimber S, Downie A, Morris S, Petty S, Chan KY (2010) A glasshouse study on the interaction of low mineral ash biochar with nitrogen in a sandy soil. Soil Res 48:569–576CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Wang JY, Zhang M, Xiong ZQ, Liu PL, Pan GX (2011) Effects of biochar addition on N2O and CO2 emissions from two paddy soils. Biol Fertil Soils 47:887–896CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Wang SQ, Zhao X, Xing GX, Yang LZ (2013) Large-scale biochar production from crop residue: a new idea and the biogas-energy pyrolysis system. Bioresource 8:8–11Google Scholar
  35. Warnock DD, Lehmann J, Kuyper TW, Rillig MC (2007) Mycorrhizal responses to biochar in soil—concepts and mechanisms. Plant Soil 300:9–20CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Xiong ZQ, Huang TQ, Ma YC, Xing GX, Zhu ZL (2010) Nitrate and ammonium leaching in variable- and permanent-charge paddy soils. Pedosphere 20:209–216CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Xu JM, Tang C, Chen ZL (2006) The role of plant residues in pH change of acid soils differing in initial pH. Soil Biol Biochem 38:709–719CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Xu RK, Zhao AZ, Yuan JH, Jiang J (2012) pH buffering capacity of acid soils from tropical and subtropical regions of China as influenced by incorporation of crop straw biochars. J Soils Sediments 12:494–502CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Yanai Y, Toyota K, Okazaki M (2007) Effects of charcoal addition on N2O emissions from soil resulting from rewetting air-dried soil in short-term laboratory experiments. Soil Sci Plant Nutr 53:181–188CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Yuan JH, Xu RK (2011) The amelioration effects of low temperature biochar generated from nine crop residues on an acidic Ultisol. Soil Use Manage 27:110–115CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Yuan JH, Xu RK, Qian W, Wang RH (2011a) Comparison of the ameliorating effects on an acidic ultisol between four crop straws and their biochars. J Soils Sediments 11:741–750CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Yuan JH, Xu RK, Zhang H (2011b) The forms of alkalis in the biochar produced from crop residues at different temperatures. Biores Technol 102:3488–3497CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Zeng XY, Ma YT, Ma LR (2007) Utilization of straw in biomass energy in China. Renew Sust Energ Rev 11:976–987CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Zhang FS (2008) Chinese strategic research report on fertilizer industry and scientific fertilization. Chinese Agricultural University Press, Beijing, pp 50–60 (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  45. Zhao QG (2002) Material cycling and regulation in red soils of China. Science, Beijing (in Chinese)Google Scholar
  46. Zhao X, Xing GX (2009) Variation in the relationship between nitrification and acidification of subtropical soils as affected by the addition of urea or ammonium sulfate. Soil Biol Biochem 41:2584–2587CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Zhao W, Cai ZC, Xu ZH (2007) Does ammonium-based N addition influence nitrification and acidification in humid subtropical soils of China? Plant Soil 297:213–221CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Zhu ZL, Wen QX, Freney JR (1997) Nitrogen in soils of China. Kluwer Academic, DordrechtCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.State Key Laboratory of Soil and Sustainable Agriculture, Changshu National Agro-Ecosystem Observation and Research Station, Institute of Soil ScienceChinese Academy of SciencesNanjingChina

Personalised recommendations