Biochar can improve biological nitrogen fixation by altering the root growth strategy of soybean in Albic soil

Sci Total Environ. 2021 Jun 15:773:144564. doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2020.144564. Epub 2021 Feb 2.


Albic soil is a low-yielding soil that is widely distributed in Northeast China. The high viscosity and acidity and the lack of nutrients in the Albic layer limit the growth of crop. In our previous studies, we found that applying biochar as a soil amendment could improve the properties of Albic soil and promote soybean growth. Increases in the nitrogen contents of the soil and the soybeans were key aspects of these improvements. Soybean is a nitrogen-fixing crop, the increase in nitrogen in the Albic soil may have been due to an improvement in biological nitrogen fixation by the soybean with biochar amendment, but the function mechanism was still uncertain. We hypothesized that biochar could improve biological nitrogen fixation of soybean by affecting soybean root growth in the Albic soil. Therefore, we conducted pot experiments with five treatment levels (0, 10, 20, 30, and 40 g·kg-1 biochar) for two years to study how biochar affects the root growth strategy and biological nitrogen fixation of soybean based on its root structure and root nutrient acquisition ability at different stages. The soybean root structure and activity indexes, nodulation ability and nitrogen uptake were measured at different growth stages; in the second year, at the late seed-filling stage, the stable 15N isotope method was used to elucidate the biological nitrogen fixation process. Regarding root structure at the pod-setting stage, biochar resulted in increases in root length density, specific root length, root diameter and specific tip density but a decrease in root tissue mass density at the pod-setting stage. Biochar improved root nutrient acquisition by increasing root activity, root tip number and root-bleeding sap amount. The change in root growth strategy contributed to the promotion of biological nitrogen fixation by the rhizobia that live symbiotically with soybean, thereby increasing crop yield.

Keywords: Biochar; Biological nitrogen fixation; Root growth strategy; Soybean.

MeSH terms

  • Charcoal
  • China
  • Glycine max*
  • Nitrogen Fixation
  • Soil*


  • Soil
  • biochar
  • Charcoal