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Interactions between aged biochar, fresh low molecular weight carbon and soil organic carbon after 3.5 years soil-biochar incubations

Jiang, Xinyu, Tan, Xiangping, Cheng, Jiong, Haddix, Michelle L., Cotrufo, M. Francesca
Geoderma 2019 v.333 pp. 99-107
beet sugar, biochar, bulk density, carbon dioxide, carbon sequestration, climate change, greenhouse gas emissions, microbial biomass, microbial communities, mineralization, mixing, molecular weight, soil organic carbon, soil types, sorption, stable isotopes, sucrose
Biochar has been considered a stable additive for long-term soil carbon (C) storage and climate change mitigation. However, our understanding of the long-term interactions between aged biochar, soil organic C (SOC), and fresh low molecular weight C compounds (LMW-C) is still limited. In addition to the changes in the chemical properties of biochar and the SOC after aging, biochar stability and C sequestration potentials might be affected by the LMW-C availability. After 3.5 years of incubation, aged soils and aged soil-biochar mixtures (4 atom‰ 13C enriched grass-derived biochar, 10% addition rate) of two different soil types were used in this study, with or without the addition of LMW-C. The 13C natural abundance of the LMW-C was manipulated by mixing cane sucrose (C4) and beet sugar (C3) to make it different from or equal to the native SOC isotopic signature of the two soil types, which allowed the partitioning of the LMW-C and biochar C from the SOC in non-biochar and biochar addition treatments, respectively. We traced the 13C in the cumulative CO2, microbial biomass C (MBC), and dissolved organic C (DOC) at the beginning and the end of the 28 days of incubation. Results indicated that this aged biochar was not as effective for SOC protection as it was when fresh. Aged biochar caused significant increases in the native SOC-derived CO2 compared to non-biochar treatment during the 3.5 years of aging. Within the 28 days of incubation, aged biochar not only promoted the total CO2 emission but also did not limit the priming effect of LMW-C on native SOC mineralization. SOC-derived DOC in the aged soil-biochar mixture was significantly higher than that in the aged soil, which further increased the SOC loss. A decline in the SOC stability with aged biochar might be associated with the attenuated sorption of SOC on aged biochar, the decline in bulk density with the high biochar addition rate, and a modified microbial community. The priming of aged SOC mineralization with the addition of LMW-C might be associated with the enhanced microbial N demand in aged soils and soil-biochar mixtures. The effect of aged biochar on the soil DOC and the effect of LMW-C on the aged biochar and SOC stabilities should be further investigated in field conditions, under continuous fresh C inputs, to better evaluate the effects of biochar on long-term SOC storage.