• Open Access

Biochar in bioenergy cropping systems: impacts on soil faunal communities and linked ecosystem processes


Corresponding author: Present address: S. McCormack, Centre for Ecology and Hydrology, Bush Estate, Penicuik, Midlothian, EH26 0QB, UK, tel. +44 (0) 131 445 4343, fax +44 (0) 131 445 3943, e-mail: smcco@ceh.ac.uk


Biochar amendment of soil and bioenergy cropping are two eco-engineering strategies at the forefront of attempts to offset anthropogenic carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. Both utilize the ability of plants to assimilate atmospheric CO2, and are thus intrinsically linked with soil processes. Research to date has shown that biochar and bioenergy cropping change both aboveground and belowground carbon cycling and soil fertility. Little is known, however, about the form and function of soil food webs in these altered ecosystems, or of the consequences of biodiversity changes at higher trophic levels for soil carbon sequestration. Hitherto studies on this topic have been chiefly observational, and often report contrasting results, thus adding little mechanistic understanding of biochar and bioenergy cropping impacts on soil organisms and linked ecosystem processes. This means it is difficult to predict, or control for, changes in biotic carbon cycling arising from biochar and bioenergy cropping. In this study we explore the potential mechanisms by which soil communities might be affected by biochar, particularly in soils which support bioenergy cropping. We outline the abiotic (soil quality-mediated) and biotic (plant- and microbe-mediated) shifts in the soil environment, and implications for the abundance, diversity, and composition of soil faunal communities. We offer recommendations for promoting biologically diverse, fertile soil via biochar use in bioenergy crop systems, accompanied by specific future research priorities.