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Research article2024Peer reviewedOpen access

Biochar and peat amendments affect nitrogen retention, microbial capacity and nitrogen cycling microbial communities in a metal and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon contaminated urban soil

Rijk, Ingrid; Ekblad, Alf; Dahlin, A. Sigrun; Enell, Anja; Larsson, Maria; Leroy, Prune; Kleja, Dan B.; Tiberg, Charlotta; Hallin, Sara; Jones, Christopher


Soil contaminants may restrict soil functions. A promising soil remediation method is amendment with biochar, which has the potential to both adsorb contaminants and improve soil health. However, effects of biochar amendment on soil -plant nitrogen (N) dynamics and N cycling microbial guilds in contaminated soils are still poorly understood. Here, a metal- and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) contaminated soil was amended with either biochar (0, 3, 6 % w/w) and/or peat (0, 1.5, 3 % w/w) in a full -factorial design and sown with perennial ryegrass in an outdoor field trial. After three months, N and the stable isotopic ratio 8 15 N was measured in soil, roots and leaves, along with microbial responses. Aboveground grass biomass decreased by 30 % and leaf N content by 20 % with biochar, while peat alone had no effect. Peat in particular, but also biochar, stimulated the abundance of microorganisms (measured as 16S rRNA gene copy number) and basal respiration. Microbial substrate utilization (MicroResp TM) was altered differentially, as peat increased respiration of all carbon sources, while for biochar, respiration of carboxylic acids increased, sugars decreased, and was unaffected for amino acids. Biochar increased the abundance of ammonia oxidizing archaea, while peat stimulated ammonia oxidizing bacteria, Nitrobacter -type nitrite oxidizers and comB-type complete ammonia oxidizers. Biochar and peat also increased nitrous oxide reducing communities ( nosZI and nosZII ), while peat alone or combined with biochar also increased abundance of nirK -type denitrifiers. However, biochar and peat lowered leaf delta 15 N by 2 -4 %o, indicating that processes causing gaseous N losses, like denitrification and ammonia volatilization, were reduced compared to the untreated contaminated soil, probably an effect of biotic N immobilization. Overall, this study shows that in addition to contaminant stabilization, amendment with biochar and peat can increase N retention while improving microbial capacity to perform important soil functions.


Soil remediation; Ecological restoration; Microbial functional genes; Stable isotopes; Plant nitrogen; Soil microbial activity

Published in

Science of the Total Environment
2024, Volume: 936, article number: 173454
Publisher: ELSEVIER