Biochar exerts negative effects on soil fauna across multiple trophic levels in a cultivated acidic soil

Ting Liu, Lihua Yang, Zhengkun Hu, Jingrong Xue, Yanyan Lu, Xiaoyun Chen*, Bryan S. Griffiths, Joann K. Whalen, Manqiang Liu

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

44 Citations (Scopus)


Biochar application is perceived as a promising agricultural technology, but risk evaluation on the soil ecosystem has focused exclusively on soil microbes, whether microfood-web is likewise influenced by biochar remains unclear. We carried out a pot experiment planted with rapeseed for 2 years to test how biochar application (0, 20, 60 t ha−1), with or without nitrogen (N) fertilizer (0, 60, 120 t ha−1), affected soil microbes and microfauna (protists and nematodes). We observed that a high amount of biochar (60 t ha−1) increased crop productivity, microbial activity, and biomass carbon (C) and N, as well as the abundance of flagellates (protists), but decreased the abundances of bacterivorous, fungivorous, and herbivorous nematodes as well as the abundance of amoebae (protists). High biochar addition rates also shifted nematode community composition toward a fungivore dominance, and favored herbivores by decreasing the ratio of microbivorous to herbivorous nematodes. However, N fertilizer and its interaction with biochar generally had no effect on microbial activity and biomass as well as the abundance of protist and nematode. A structural equation model revealed that the effects of biochar on soil biota were largely direct, which might depend on biochar properties (e.g., pore size and alkalinity), whereas indirect effects, mediated by crop, soil pH, soil moisture, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) concentration, generally had no effect on soil biota. We conclude that biochar is a suitable soil amendment for increasing crop growth, but its detrimental effect on multitrophic levels of soil fauna calls for an identification of the optimal application rate and size fraction that could minimize potential negative effects on certain soil communities.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)597-606
Number of pages10
JournalBiology and Fertility of Soils
Issue number5
Early online date31 Jan 2020
Publication statusFirst published - 31 Jan 2020

Bibliographical note

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2020


  • Biochar
  • Crop productivity
  • Microbes
  • Nematodes
  • Protists


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