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Biochar Simultaneously Reduces Nutrient Leaching and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Restored Wetland Soils

Abstract

Organic soil amendments such as biochar and compost are thought to improve soil development, but it is unclear whether they affect nutrient leaching and greenhouse gas emissions. Using mesocosms, we investigated the effects of biochar and compost on nutrient leaching and greenhouse gas emissions across varying hydrologic regimes. Increased biochar decreased nutrient leaching and greenhouse gas emissions: the highest application rate (10% wt/wt) decreased cumulative phosphate leaching by 63% (SE 1.4), ammonium leaching by 65% (SE 0.8) and nitrate leaching by 92% (SE 0.3). Likewise, 10% biochar application decreased cumulative methane emissions by 92% (SE 3.7), carbon dioxide emissions by 48% (SE 7.0), and nitrous oxide emissions by 89% (SE 4.1). Biochar effects varied with hydrology for each greenhouse gas: stronger reductions in methane and nitrous oxide emissions were observed under waterlogged conditions, whereas stronger reductions in carbon dioxide emissions were observed at field capacity. In contrast with biochar, compost was the largest contributor to nutrient leaching and greenhouse gas emissions. These results suggest that biochar is most effective in soils with episodic flooding and drying rather than continuous flooding, and that compost should be avoided. We conclude that biochar can promote desirable functions simultaneously in restored wetland soils.

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Acknowledgements

We thank Nia Bartolucci for assistance with mesocosm sampling and sample preparation, and Erin Pierce and Brittany McDonald for field assistance. Field access was provided by Glorianna Davenport and Evan Schulman of Tidmarsh Farms and biochar was provided by Bob Wells of New England Biochar. The Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies conducted water sample analyses, and the UMASS Soil and Plant Nutrient Testing Laboratory provided soil analyses on the three substrates (biochar, compost, and soil), as well as the final nutrient concentrations in soil. We are grateful to the editor and reviewers who helped to improve this manuscript. This research was conducted within the Restoration Ecology Program at Mount Holyoke College and the Living Observatory Research Collaborative, and was supported in part by the American Association of University Women.

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Correspondence to Kate A. Ballantine.

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Rubin, R.L., Anderson, T.R. & Ballantine, K.A. Biochar Simultaneously Reduces Nutrient Leaching and Greenhouse Gas Emissions in Restored Wetland Soils. Wetlands 40, 1981–1991 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s13157-020-01380-8

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Keywords

  • Wetland restoration
  • Soil amendments
  • Methane
  • Carbon dioxide
  • Nitrous oxide
  • Nitrate
  • Agricultural retirement