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Biochemical cycling of nitrogen and phosphorus in biochar-amended soils

Gul, Shamim, Whalen, Joann K.
Soil biology & biochemistry 2016 v.103 pp. 1-15
agricultural soils, ammonia, biochar, coarse-textured soils, crops, denitrification, feedstocks, fertilizer application, ions, microbial biomass, mineralization, nitrification, nitrogen, nitrogen fixation, nutrient retention, nutrient use efficiency, phosphorus, phosphorus fertilizers, physicochemical properties, plant nutrition, prediction, soil amendments, soil fertility, soil microorganisms, surface area, temperature, volatilization
There is global interest in understanding the prospects for biochar application to agricultural soils. If biochar enhances the availability of nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) to crops, this could be pivotal in reducing N and P fertilizer inputs to agricultural soils. This review evaluates the soil biochemical cycling of N and P as influenced by biochars with diverse characteristics, and describes the consequences for plant nutrition with respect to the N use efficiency (NUE) and P use efficiency (PUE) of crops grown in biochar-amended soils. Fundamentally, biochar can alter microbial-mediated reactions in the soil N and P cycles, i.e. N2 fixation, mineralization of N and P, nitrification, ammonia volatilization and denitrification. As well, biochar provides reactive surfaces where N and P ions are retained in soil microbial biomass and in exchange sites, both of which modulate N and P availability to crops. Distinctions must be made between biochars derived from manure- and crop residue-based feedstocks versus biochars derived from ligno-cellulosic feedstock, as well as biochars produced at a lower production temperature (<400 °C) versus biochars generated at a higher production temperature (≥600 °C). These factors determine the nutrient retention capacity of biochars when they are applied to soil. For example, low bioavailable N and P concentrations are expected when coarse-textured soil is amended with biochar having a high surface area, necessitating fertilizer application to avoid N and P deficiencies in the crop. Since the biochemical cycling of N and P in biochar-amended soil is affected strongly by biochar × soil interactions, detailed assessment of biochar-induced changes in soil physico-chemical properties and biological processes may improve predictions of how diverse biochars will affect soil fertility and crop nutrition under site-specific conditions.