Biochar additions alter phosphorus and nitrogen availability in agricultural ecosystems: A meta-analysis

Si Gao, Thomas H. DeLuca, Cory C. Cleveland

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

299 Scopus citations


Biochar is a carbon (C) rich product of thermochemical conversion of organic material that is used as a soil amendment due to its resistance to decomposition and its influence on nutrient dynamics; however, individual studies on biochar effects on phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) have proven inconsistent. Herein, we performed a meta-analysis of 124 published studies to evaluate the influence of biochar on available P, microbial biomass P (MBP), and inorganic N (NO 3 -N and NH 4 + -N) in global agricultural ecosystems. Overall, the results showed that biochar applications significantly increased surface soil available P by 45% and MBP by 48% across the full range of biochar characteristics, soil type, or experimental conditions. By contrast, biochar addition to soil reduced NO 3 -N concentrations by 12% and NH 4 + -N by 11%, but in most cases biochar added in combination with organic fertilizer significantly increased soil NH 4 + -N compared to controls. Biochar C:N ratio and biochar source (feedstock) strongly influenced soil P availability response to biochar where inorganic N was most influenced by biochar C:N ratio and soil pH. Biochar made from manure or other low C:N ratio materials, generated at low temperatures, or applied at high rates were generally more effective at enhancing soil available P. It is important, however, to note that most negative results were observed in short-term (<6 months) where long-term studies (>12 months) tended to result in neutral to modest positive effects on both P and N. This meta-analysis indicates that biochar generally enhances soil P availability when added to soils alone or in combination with fertilizer. These findings provide a scientific basis for developing more rational strategies toward widespread adoption of biochar as a soil amendment for agricultural P and N management.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)463-472
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
StatePublished - Mar 1 2019


  • Agriculture
  • Charcoal
  • Microbial biomass P
  • Nitrogen
  • Phosphorus


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