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Ethylene: potential key for biochar amendment impacts

Spokas, Kurt A., Baker, John M., Reicosky, Donald C.
Plant and soil 2010 v.333 no.1-2 pp. 443
soil microorganisms, biological activity in soil, gas emissions, ethylene, ethylene production, soil amendments, charcoal, biochar
Significant increases in root density, crop growth and productivity have been observed following soil additions of biochar, which is a solid product from the pyrolysis of biomass. In addition, alterations in the soil microbial dynamics have been observed following biochar amendments, with decreased carbon dioxide (CO₂) respiration, suppression of methane (CH₄) oxidation and reduction of nitrous oxide (N₂O) production. However, there has not been a full elucidation of the mechanisms behind these effects. Here we show data on ethylene production that was observed from biochar and biochar-amended soil. Ethylene is an important plant hormone as well as an inhibitor for soil microbial processes. Our current hypothesis is that the ethylene is biochar derived, with a majority of biochars exhibiting ethylene production even without soil or microbial inoculums. There was increased ethylene production from non-sterile compared to sterile soil (215%), indicating a role of soil microbes in the observed ethylene production. Production varied with different biomass sources and production conditions. These observations provide a tantalizing insight into a potential mechanism behind the biochar effects observed, particularly in light of the important role ethylene plays in plant and microbial processes.