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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2021

Functional response of the soil microbial community to biochar applications

Xu, Wenhuan; Whitman, William B.; Gundale, Michael J.; Chien, Chuan-Chi; Chiu, Chih-Yu


Biochar has the potential to mitigate the impacts of climate change and soil degradation by simultaneously sequestering C in soil and improving soil quality. However, the mechanism of biochar's effect on soil microbial communities remains unclear. Therefore, we conducted a global meta-analysis, where we collected 2,110 paired observations from 107 published papers and used structural equation modeling (SEM) to analyze the effects of biochar on microbial community structure and function. Our result indicated that arbuscular mycorrhizal fungal abundance, microbial biomass C, and functional richness increased with biochar addition regardless of loads, time since application, and experiment types. Results from mixed linear model analysis suggested that soil respiration and actinomycetes (ACT) abundance decreased with biochar application. With the increase of soil pH, the effect of biochar on fungal abundance and C metabolic ability was lessened. Higher biochar pH associated with higher pyrolysis temperatures reduced the abundance of bacteria, fungi, ACT, and soil microbes feeding on miscellaneous C from Biolog Eco-plate experiments. SEM that examined the effect of biochar properties, load, and soil properties on microbial community indicated that fungal abundance was the dominant factor affecting the response of the bacterial abundance to biochar. The response of bacterial abundance to biochar addition was soil dependent, whereas fungi abundance was mostly related to biochar load and pyrolysis temperature. Based on soil conditions, controlling biochar load and production conditions would be a direct way to regulate the effect of biochar application on soil microbial function and increase the capacity to sequester C.


biochar; Biolog; C utilization; functional diversity; global meta‐analysis; PLFA; soil microbial community

Published in

GCB Bioenergy
2021, volume: 13, number: 1, pages: 269-281
Publisher: WILEY

Authors' information

Xu, Wenhuan
Academia Sinica
Whitman, William B.
University System of Georgia
Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Forest Ecology and Management
Chien, Chuan-Chi
Industrial Technology Research Institute - Taiwan
Chiu, Chih‐Yu
Academia Sinica

Sustainable Development Goals

SDG15 Life on land
SDG13 Climate action

UKÄ Subject classification

Soil Science

Publication Identifiers


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