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The Water-Soluble Pool in Biochar Dominates Maize Plant Growth Promotion Under Biochar Amendment

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Although amending biochar into agricultural soils has been regarded as an effective measure to improve crop productivity, it remains unclear why biochar increases crop yield. The objective of this study was to compare the relative contribution of different biochar components in crop growth promotion. Three biochar components were separated: (i) water-soluble biochar extract (BE), (ii) mineral nutrients from biochar ash (BA), and (iii) washed biochar residue (WB). Two soils (Anthrosol and Primosol) with distinctly different organic carbon content, soil texture and land use were amended with the three biochar components and their effects on maize (Zea mays L.) growth were tested in a pot experiment. We hypothesized that (1) plant grown in the Anthrosol benefitted more from the water-soluble compounds of biochar than from its mineral nutrients or washed residue, since the soil is already fertile and has a good structure; (2) plant grown in the Primosol benefitted more from the mineral nutrients of biochar and its washed residual, since the soil is nutrient-poor and has a poor structure. The addition of biochar and its three components increased maize aboveground biomass for both soils. In the Anthrosol, BE, BA, and WB increased the aboveground biomass by 41.6%, 32.7%, and 27.1%; in the Primosol, they increased the aboveground biomass by 41.3%, 24.4%, and 18.2%, respectively. BE had the highest plant growth-promoting effect compared to the other two biochar components, which was regardless of soil condition. In addition, the biomass, total volume, surface area, and number of maize root tips under BE amendment were significantly enhanced, particularly the fine roots (< 0.2 mm in diameter). And a strong positive correlation was observed between maize aboveground biomass and the total length of the fine roots. The results demonstrated that the water-soluble compounds present in biochar, in addition to the mineral nutrients and the washed biochar residue, dominate the plant growth promotion under both soil conditions.

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This work was financially supported by the Ministry of Science and Technology of China under the project of National Key Technology R&D Program (Grant Number 2015BAC02B01), by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41501310 and 41471193), by the Fundamental Research Funds for the Central Universities (KYZ201622 and KJQN201670), and by the Global Environment Facility under the project of Biochar for Sustainable Soil Management (B4SS).

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XL and CL designed the experiment and CL conducted the experiment. CL and BS analyzed the samples. CL and XL drafted the manuscript. XZ, MD, LL and GP finalizing the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Xiaoyu Liu.

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Liu, C., Sun, B., Zhang, X. et al. The Water-Soluble Pool in Biochar Dominates Maize Plant Growth Promotion Under Biochar Amendment. J Plant Growth Regul 40, 1466–1476 (2021).

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