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Effect of biochar addition on C mineralisation and soil organic matter priming in two subsoil horizons



The impact of biochar on subsoil organic carbon mineralisation has never been assessed despite its susceptibility to downward transport after soil amendment. In this study, we analysed the potential mineralisation of biochar and plant material as well as their effect on native soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition in subsoil horizons.

Materials and methods

We used 13C-labelled biochar and plant material to allow disentangling substrate mineralisation and priming effects. The substrates were added to two mountain subsoils under different land use and incubated for 1 year under optimum conditions. We analysed for physical parameters and C mineralisation in the two soils. Moreover, microbial communities were assessed by phospholipid fatty acid (PLFA) analyses.

Results and discussion

Our results indicated contrasting potential C mineralisation of subsoils under different land use probably related to sampling depth, contribution of stabilised organic matter compounds, carbon content as well as quality. In general, very low proportions of biochar were mineralised in the two soils as compared to plant material. The mineralisation of each of the added substrates (biochar and plant material) was slightly, but significantly different in the two soils. Native C mineralisation was much higher after plant material addition than after biochar addition. Subsoil type influenced the kind and magnitude of priming effects for both added substrates.


Biochar mineralisation and its priming effects in subsoil are small as compared to uncharred plant litter. We suggest that substrate mineralization and priming effects induced on subsoil organic matter are dependent on the composition of the added substrate, as well as soil parameters rather than microbial community characteristics.

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Our research was funded by the European Community under the framework of the EuroChar project (FP7-ENV-478 2010ID-265179). We thank the Observatoire Homme-Milieux Pyrenees Haut-Vicdessos CNRS-INEE for access to the sampling sites and the Poznan radiocarbon laboratory for the 14C activity analyses.

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Correspondence to Cornelia Rumpel.

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Responsible editor: Frank G. A. Verheijen

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Naisse, C., Girardin, C., Davasse, B. et al. Effect of biochar addition on C mineralisation and soil organic matter priming in two subsoil horizons. J Soils Sediments 15, 825–832 (2015).

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  • 13C-labelled biochar
  • Mineralisation
  • Priming
  • Subsoil