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Changes in δ15N in a soil–plant system under different biochar feedstocks and application rates

Abstract

The application of biochar in soils has been hypothesised to improve soil quality whilst enhancing carbon (C) sequestration. However, its effect on nitrogen (N) dynamics in the soil–plant system is still not fully understood. In the present work, N isotope composition (δ15N) was used to facilitate the understanding of the processes involved in the N cycling when biochar is applied. We evaluated, through a wheat pot trial, the effect of different application rates of two types of biochar produced from jarrah and pine woodchips on the wheat biomass at harvest and on the soil and plant C and N contents and δ15N. In addition, the potential benefit of using nutrient-saturated biochar for the soil–plant system was also investigated. Whilst biochar produced from different feedstocks had similar effects on soil and plant nutrient contents, they induced differences in wheat grain biomass and plant δ15N. The effect of the biochar application rate was more pronounced, and at rates higher than 29 t ha−1, the application of biochar decreased grain biomass by up to 39 % and potentially increased N losses. Isotopic analyses indicated that this acceleration of N dynamics had probably occurred before the stage of wheat grain formation. The application of nutrient-enriched biochar resulted in an improved wheat grain production, most likely due to the enhanced nutrient availability, and in reduced N cycling rates in the plant–soil system, which could offset the competition between biochar and plants for nutrients and could decrease adverse environmental impacts due to N losses.

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Acknowledgments

The authors gratefully acknowledge the financial and other support provided by the Australian Research Council under the ARC Linkage Project Scheme (ARC Linkage Project LP100200135), with BHP Billiton Iron Ore Pty Ltd., Ansac Pty Ltd. and ENN Technology as the partner organisations. We would like to thank Danny Tey for his assistance in collecting plant and soil samples; Bill Piasini, Marijke Heenan and Rene Diocares for their technical support; and Professor Yongqi Zhang and his team at the Institute of Coal Chemistry for their help with biochar characterization. We also express our gratitude to Dr. Tim Blumfield and Dr. Zhiqun Huang for their useful comments on this manuscript.

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Correspondence to Frédérique Reverchon or Zhihong Xu.

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Reverchon, F., Flicker, R.C., Yang, H. et al. Changes in δ15N in a soil–plant system under different biochar feedstocks and application rates. Biol Fertil Soils 50, 275–283 (2014). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00374-013-0850-2

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00374-013-0850-2

Keywords

  • Jarrah biochar
  • Pine biochar
  • Nutrient enrichment
  • Nitrogen cycling
  • Isotopic composition