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Effect of Biochar on Soil Microbial Communities, Nutrient Availability, and Greenhouse Gases in Short Rotation Coppice Systems of Central Alberta Open Access


Other title
microbial communities
greenhouse gases
nutrient availability
short rotation coppice systems
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Taghavimehr, Jamal
Supervisor and department
MacKenzie, M. Derek (Renewable Resources)
Examining committee member and department
Chang, Scott (Renewable Resources)
Dyck, Miles (Renewable Resources)
Department of Renewable Resources
Land Reclamation and Remediation
Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
Short rotation coppice (SRC) systems using willow (Salix spp.) grown on marginal soil, amended with biochar may represent a promising source of renewable green energy for rural communities of Alberta. The Ohaton Wood Energy project, an agroforestry site located in Camrose County, is one of several ongoing SRC projects in Alberta. This project evaluated the effect of biochar on microbial communities, nutrient availability, and greenhouse gases (GHG) in Solonetzic soils dedicated to agroforestry purposes. The study used both lab incubation and field plots to examine the effect of biochar. In the lab incubation, straw and willow biochars were applied to low and high EC soils. The application rates of biochar were 0, 1, 2.5, 5, and 10% (w/w). Chloroform fumigation extraction and alkali trap methods were used to assess soil microbial biomass and activity. Microbial biomass carbon (MBC) and nitrogen (MBN) increased in the presence of biochar in low EC soil. In high EC soil, the metabolic quotient increased, while MBC was reduced. Nitrate (NO3-) availability was reduced with biochar addition. In the field study, willow and conifer biochars were applied at 1 and 2.5% (w/w) application rates, to high and low EC and waste water irrigated and non-irrigated zones. The metabolic quotient increased by 177% with addition of conifer biochar at 2.5% rate in irrigated soil. MBC and MBN didn’t change drastically in response to biochar additions. Phospholipid fatty-acid (PLFA) analysis and community level physiological profiling (CLPP) were used to examine soil microbial structure and function. Non-metric multidimensional scaling (NMS) was used to distinguish differences between these microbial profiles. Biochar didn’t alter PLFA structure in any of treated soils compared to control, but conifer 2.5% changed CLPP in both high and low EC soils. These results indicate that microbial function can change in a short period of time with addition of biochar, but microbial structure and biomass may need more time to shift. Plant root simulator probes were applied in-situ to measure soil nutrient bioavailability. NMS was also applied to compare nutrient profiles. The nutrient profiles of conifer 2.5% and willow 1% were significantly different from the control in non-irrigated high EC zone. Photoacoustic multi-gas analyzer was connected to static chambers to measure CO2 and N2O emissions from soil. Biochar decreased gas emissions from non-irrigated high EC plots in the first 3 weeks. Establishing a strong link between GHG emissions, soil microbial processes, and nutrient profiles as indicators of ecosystem functions needs further research.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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