Biochar has no effect on soil respiration across Chinese agricultural soils

Xiaoyu Liu, Jufeng Zheng, Dengxiao Zhang, Kun Cheng, Huimin Zhou, Afeng Zhang, Lianqing Li, Stephen Joseph, Pete Smith, David Crowley, Yakov Kuzyakov, Genxing Pan

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Biochar addition to soil has been widely accepted as an option to enhance soil carbon sequestration by introducing recalcitrant organic matter. However, it remains unclear whether biochar will negate the net carbon accumulation by increasing carbon loss through CO2 efflux from soil (soil respiration). The objectives of this study were to address: 1) whether biochar addition increases soil respiration; and whether biochar application rate and biochar type (feedstock and pyrolyzing system) affect soil respiration. Two series of field experiments were carried out at 8 sites representing the main crop production areas in China. In experiment 1, a single type of wheat straw biochar was amended at rates of 0, 20 and 40tha(-1) in four rice paddies and three dry croplands. In experiment 2, four types of biochar (varying in feedstock and pyrolyzing system) were amended at rates of 0 and 20tha(-1) in a rice paddy under rice-wheat rotation. Results showed that biochar addition had no effect on CO2 efflux from soils consistently across sites, although it increased topsoil organic carbon stock by 38% on average. Meanwhile, CO2 efflux from soils amended with 40t of biochar did not significantly higher than soils amended with 20t of biochar. While the biochars used in Experiment 2 had different carbon pools and physico-chemical properties, they had no effect on soil CO2 efflux. The soil CO2 efflux following biochar addition could be hardly explained by the changes in soil physic-chemical properties and in soil microbial biomass. Thus, we argue that biochar will not negate the net carbon accumulation by increasing carbon loss through CO2 efflux in agricultural soils.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)259-265
Number of pages7
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date5 Mar 2016
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2016

Bibliographical note

This work was supported by NSFC (41371298 and 41371300), Ministry of Science and Technology (2013GB23600666 and 2013BAD11B00), and Ministry of Education of China (20120097130003). The international cooperation was funded under a “111” project by the State Agency of Foreign Expert Affairs of China and jointly supported under a grant for Priority Disciplines in Higher Education by the Department of Education, Jiangsu Province, China; The work was also a contribution to the cooperation project of “Estimates of Future Agricultural GHG Emissions and Mitigation in China” under the UK-China Sustainable Agriculture Innovation Network (SAIN). Pete Smith contributed to this work under a UK BBSRC China Partnership Award.
The authors are grateful to Yuming Liu, Bin Zhang, Xiao Li, Gang Wu, Jinjin Qu and Yinxin Ye and Dongqi Liu for their contribution to field experiments, and to Rongjun Bian and Qaiser Hussain for their participation in discussions of the data analysis and interpretation, and to Xinyan Yu and Jiafang Wang for their assistance in lab works.


  • biochar
  • soil respiration
  • carbon stability
  • greenhouse gas mitigation
  • agricultural soils
  • microbial activity


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