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Temporal evolution of biochar’s impact on soil nitrogen processes - a 15N tracing study

Journal article
Authors Victoria Nelissen
Tobias Rütting
Dries Huygens
G Ruysschaert
Pascal Boeckx
Published in Global Change Biology Bioenergy
Volume 7
Issue 4
Pages 635–645
ISSN 1757-1693
Publication year 2015
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Pages 635–645
Language en
Keywords nitrogen cycle, biochar, stable isotopes, 15N;Biochar;field trial;gross transformation;immobilization;mineralization;nitrogen;tracing model
Subject categories Other Earth and Related Environmental Sciences, Soil biology, Renewable Bioenergy Research


Biochar addition to soils has been proposed as a means to increase soil fertility and carbon sequestration. However, its effect on soil nitrogen (N) cycling and N availability is poorly understood. To gain better insight into the temporal variability of the impact of biochar on gross soil N dynamics, two 15N tracing experiments, in combination with numerical data analysis, were conducted with soil from a biochar field trial, 1 day and 1 year after application of a woody biochar type. The results showed accelerated soil N cycling immediately following biochar addition, with increased gross N mineralization (+34%), nitrification (+13%) and ammonium (NH4+) and nitrate (NO3−) immobilization rates (+4500% and +511%, respectively). One year after biochar application, the biochar acted as an inert substance with respect to N cycling. In the short term, biochar's labile C fraction and a pH increase can explain stimulated microbial activity, while in the longer term, when the labile C fraction has been mineralized and the pH effect has faded, the accelerating effect of biochar on N cycling ceases. In conclusion, biochar accelerates soil N transformations in the short-term through stimulating soil microbial activity, thereby increasing N bio-availability. This effect is, however, temporary.

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