Changing Soils to Manage Plant Communities: Activated Carbon as a Restoration Tool in Ex-arable Fields


  • Andrew Kulmatiski

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biology, University of Alaska, Anchorage, AK 99507, U.S.A.
      A. Kulmatiski, email
    Search for more papers by this author

A. Kulmatiski, email


Due to its potential to inhibit plant–microbe interaction and allelopathy, there is a growing interest in the use of activated carbon (AC) as a soil manipulation for native plant restoration. Here I describe the long-term effects of AC on native and non-native plant growth in the field and the short-term effects of AC on soil microbial communities. I added AC (1% by mass) with or without native seed to plots in three ex-arable fields dominated by non-native plants in the Methow Valley, Washington, U.S.A. Six years after a single application, AC plus native seed addition restored native plant dominance by decreasing non-native abundance from 34 ± 4% to 14 ± 2%, and increasing native abundance from 10 ± 2% to 42 ± 8%. Relative to non-AC-treated soils, AC decreased the abundance of the bacterial (16:0), fungal (18:1 ω9c, 18:1 ω6,9,12c), and mycorrhizal (16:1 ω5c) lipids that were associated with non-native-dominated soils. This research suggests that AC effects on plant growth might be due to a complex combination of its direct effects on heterotrophic, symbiotic, and pathogenic soil organisms as well as its ability to sequester allelochemicals. This research showed that soil manipulations may be a necessary component of native plant restoration because seed addition alone did not restore native plant dominance, but AC plus seed treatment did restore native plant dominance.