Biology and Fertility of Soils

, Volume 55, Issue 1, pp 67–78 | Cite as

Biochar mineralization and priming effect in a poplar short rotation coppice from a 3-year field experiment

  • Maurizio VenturaEmail author
  • Giorgio Alberti
  • Pietro Panzacchi
  • Gemini Delle Vedove
  • Franco Miglietta
  • Giustino Tonon
Original Paper


The present study assesses the stability of biochar, its effect on original soil organic matter (SOM) decomposition, and the interactions with plant roots over a 3-year period in a short rotation coppice plantation in Northern Italy. Biochar produced from gasification of maize silage (δ13C of biochar ≈ − 13.8‰) was applied into the soil of the plantation (δ13C of SOM ≈ −23.5‰). Total and heterotrophic respirations were measured in control and biochar-treated plots, and the amount of biochar-derived carbon dioxide (CO2) was calculated using an isotopic mass balance method. Biochar mean residence time (MRT) was assessed using exponential decay models. The remaining amount of biochar at the end of the experiment was estimated by a soil isotopic mass balance. In the absence of plant roots, MRT of the more recalcitrant biochar fraction (96% of the total) was 24.3 years, significantly lower than expected from previous shorter-term studies or laboratory incubations. In the presence of plant roots, MRT decreased to 12.6 years, confirming the previously observed positive effect of roots on biochar decomposition. However, in the absence of roots, the biochar decreased the decomposition of original SOM by 16%, indicating long-lasting protective effect on SOM (negative priming effect). The soil isotopic mass balance suggested that part of the applied biochar could have been lost by downward migration. This study provides the first estimation of the biochar stability and priming effect on SOM in field conditions in the medium term.


Biochar Roots Priming effect Organic matter Carbon sequestration CO2 



This work was performed under the support of the 7th Framework Programme for Research and Technological Development (FP7) of the European Commission (EUROCHAR project, N 265179). We kindly thank Fabio Petrella and the I.P.L.A. (Istituto per le Piante da Legno e l’Ambiente) for providing the experimental site and for the help during its establishment and maintenance.

Supplementary material

374_2018_1329_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.7 mb)
Online Resource 1 Picture of the experimental site and one of the automated chambers used for the measurements of soil respiration. (PDF 1691 kb)
374_2018_1329_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (237 kb)
Online Resource 2 Plot of the observed versus predicted data for the model used to gapfill the missing daily soil respiration values on the basis of soil temperature and water content. (PDF 236 kb)
374_2018_1329_MOESM3_ESM.pdf (131 kb)
Online Resource 3 Monthly average air temperature and total precipitation at the experimental site. (PDF 131 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Science and TechnologyLibera Università di BolzanoBolzano/BozenItaly
  2. 2.Department of Agricultural and Environmental SciencesUniversity of UdineUdineItaly
  3. 3.The EFI Project Centre on Mountain Forests (MOUNTFOR)Edmund Mach FoundationTrentoItaly
  4. 4.IBIMET-CNR, National Research CouncilFlorenceItaly
  5. 5.FoxLab Forest & Wood ScienceEdmund Mach FoundationTrentoItaly

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