Biochar-stimulated plant performance is strongly linked to microbial diversity and metabolic potential in the rhizosphere

Max Kolton, Ellen R. Graber, Ludmila Tsehansky, Yigal Elad, Eddie Cytryn

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

150 Scopus citations


The ‘biochar effect’ depicts a phenomenon in which biochar soil amendment enhances plant performance by promoting growth and suppressing disease. Although this phenomenon has been observed in numerous studies, the mode of action that explains it is currently unknown. In order to elucidate mechanisms responsible for the ‘biochar effect’, we comprehensively monitored tomato plant development and resistance to the foliar fungal pathogen Botrytis cinerea, in biochar-amended and nonamended soils using native biochar and washed biochar, striped of labile chemical constituents. We concomitantly assessed bacterial community succession in the rhizosphere by high-throughput 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing and carbon-source utilization profiling. Biochar had little impact on plant physiological parameters. However, both native and washed biochar treatments were characterized by higher rhizosphere bacterial diversity and enhanced carbohydrate and phenolic compound utilization rates coupled to stimulation of bacteria known to degrade phenolic compounds. This study indicates that the ‘biochar effect’ is at least partially dictated by increased diversity and changes in metabolic potential in the rhizosphere microbiome, which is primarily triggered by the recalcitrant carbon backbone of the biochar and tightly bound compounds. It corresponds to the growing consensus that soil amendments which enhance microbial diversity have important benefits to ecosystem functioning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1393-1404
Number of pages12
JournalNew Phytologist
Issue number3
StatePublished - 1 Feb 2017
Externally publishedYes


  • biochar
  • ecosystem functioning
  • metabolic potential
  • microbial diversity
  • plant growth
  • plant resistance
  • rhizosphere

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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