Jul 28, 2011

Biochar investigated for increasing soil biota

Written by Tellisha Dunlop Thursday, 28 July 2011

UWA PhD student is evaluating how biochar—a stable form of charcoal commonly used in carbon sequestration and as a soil conditioner—influences soil micro-organisms.

“Improvement in the biological status of soil is important because it helps regulate nutrient cycling and improves conditions for root growth.”— Noraini MD Jaafar. Image: flickr (Truthout.org)

School of Earth and Environment Researcher Noraini MD Jaafar says the study aims to determine the role of biochar in soil as a habitat for soil organisms and the effect of biochar on growth and functioning of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi and other microbial activities.

“Biochar may improve the ability of beneficial microorganisms to increase the efficiency of plant nutrient acquisition. Combinations of biochar and mycorrhizal fungi may improve microbial activity and nutrient status of soil,” she says.

Different types of biochars can affect the survival and activity of soil biota however there appears to lack of research for its practical application in farming systems.

Noraini says, “Biochar are heterogenous due to differences in the pyrolysis conditions and feedstocks—the parent material used to produce biochar. Variations in biochar porosity and surface structure create habitats for soil microorganisms.”

“It has been proposed that the biochar micro-environment enhances survival and multiplication of soil organisms,” she says.

“Improvement in the biological status of soil is important because it helps regulate nutrient cycling and improves conditions for root growth. Knowledge of the effectiveness of biochars and appropriate rates of their application according to soil type could contribute to improvement in soil health.”

“Biochar is of interest as a soil amendment, but in-depth knowledge of how biochar might alter the growth, survival and activities of soil biota is not well understood for farming systems,” Noraini says.

“While there have been many claims about the benefits of biochar, this needs to be confirmed for biochars from different feedstocks. This research will determine whether there are consistent patterns in interactions between the source of biochar and soil microorganisms.

Noraini’s research began in August 2008 and it has incorporated high resolution microscopy of biochar fragments with measurements of soil biological activity. The research will conclude at the end of 2011.

Winthrop Professor Lyn Abbott, Associate Professor Peta Clode and Assocociate Professor Daniel Murphy supervised Noraini MD Jaafar during her time at UWA.

Researcher Noraini MD Jaafar is from Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) and was sponsored by the Malaysian Government for her UWA PhD.

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