Does biochar influence soil physical properties and soil water availability?
This study aims to (i) determine the effects of incorporating 47 Mg ha−1 acacia green waste biochar on soil physical properties and water relations, and (ii) to explore the different mechanisms by which biochar influences soil porosity.
The pore size distribution of the biochar was determined by scanning electron microscope and mercury porosimetry. Soil physical properties and water relations were determined by in situ tension infiltrometers, desorption and evaporative flux on intact cores, pressure chamber analysis at −1,500 kPa, and wet aggregate sieving.
Thirty months after incorporation, biochar application had no significant effect on soil moisture content, drainable porosity between –1.0 and −10 kPa, field capacity, plant available water capacity, the van Genuchten soil water retention parameters, aggregate stability, nor the permanent wilting point. However, the biochar-amended soil had significantly higher near-saturated hydraulic conductivity, soil water content at −0.1 kPa, and significantly lower bulk density than the unamended control. Differences were attributed to the formation of large macropores (>1,200 μm) resulting from greater earthworm burrowing in the biochar-amended soil.
We found no evidence to suggest application of biochar influenced soil porosity by either direct pore contribution, creation of accommodation pores, or improved aggregate stability.
KeywordsPlant available soil water (PAWC) In situ Soil amendment Apple Soil water retention
This project was conducted as part of the national apple and pear industry Productivity Irrigation Pests and Soils flagship program and was funded by Horticulture Australia Limited using the apple and pear industry levy, voluntary contribution from the New Zealand Institute for Plant and Food Research, and matched funds from the Australian Government. We thank Justin Direen for assistance with trial establishment and Benedicte Patin, Steve Patterson, Jocelyn Parry-Jones, and Anna Wrobel-Tobiszewska for assistance with field work. Assistance with SEM and mercury porosimetry was gratefully received from Dario Arrua and Jocelyn Parry-Jones. Thanks to Drs Caroline Mohammed and Alieta Eyles for valuable comments on an earlier draft of the manuscript. This work was conducted whilst the first author was seconded from the Department of Primary Industries, Parks, Water and Environment.
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