Biochar, The Soil Capacitor

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David talks about his biochar experiments and that got me thinking…

Recently I watched a great talk about the negative priming effects of pyrogenic carbon on soil organic carbon that you may find interesting:

Extrapolating from Silene’s results, when biochar concentration is high enough (~3%) there should be a halving of soil organic carbon (SOC) priming, and this should cause a doubling of SOC sequestration and effectively grow high carbon content Terra Preta soils faster. This correlates well with other research I’ve seen by David Johnson.

What the biochar is doing is interesting. I’ve hypothesised that microbes change metabolic strategy in the presence of enough carbon and in particular high electron transfer biochar, as recently biochar has been shown to increase electron transfer within soils.

So in addition to nutrient sorption, biochar may be acting as a sort of microbe electricity grid, and moving their metabolism from one of oxidation to reduction as they get their energy from the grid, thereby facilitating more SOC sequestration.

If this is the case, to facilitate this we may want high electron transfer biochars that have large surface areas that are effectively many aggregate soil capacitors, which made me think of Robert Murray-Smith’s recent videos in which he creates his own graphene inks for batteries and capacitors, and has been recently been talking about his strange capacitors.

I know from other research that the most productive soils long-term are those that are most connected ecologically, not fungal dominated, though that helps up to a point, and creating these connected soils is important if we want productive systems. This electron transfer effect that biochar has may be one small part of the puzzle along with plant roots, mycorrhizal fungi and other interconnected ecosystems we’ve yet to discover.

Also, if I calculated correctly, in Silene’s video, 450C carbon-13 tagged biochar soil appears to respire at a rate about 13x slower than SOC, so it’s not going to stay around forever.

Kids & Sticky-finger Superbugs on Farms

A study about superbugs on industrial hog farms using antibiotics claims children of workers were more than twice as likely to have their noses stuffed with drug-resistant germs than other kids. That the sticky fingers of booger-mining kids could be important spreaders of drug-resistant germs, something to be aware of. You can read about it on ars: https://arstechnica.com/science/2017/04/farm-raised-superbugs-find-their-way-into-kids-noses-somehow/

The importance of beneficial plant partners

When a plant is introduced (accidentally or intentionally, but usually by humans) into a new region, many factors can influence the ability for that species to become established. One major factor at play is the different set of species it will interact with in this new environment—will they work with it or against it? We naturally tend to focus on the negatives; like whether there are enemies like pathogens, predators or other competitors that will control it.

What has received less attention is how positive interactions are affecting the spread of non-native species. For example, we know that the availability of pollinators is important for many plant species. So when a species moves, it doesn’t just leave its enemies behind, it also leaves its friends, its beneficial partnerships.

And it appears that for symbiotic legumes, these beneficial partners matter a lot. Their associated rhizobia matter so much that we can see their impacts on legume species spread at a global scale, across multiple continents and islands.

Read more: Legumes’ microbe relationships hold them back from travelling the globe – ECOS

Careful where you barefoot.

Elephantiasis podoconiosis is caused by repeatedly walking barefoot in volcanic soils, which contain tiny, sharp mineral crystals that can penetrate the soles of the feet. Once these crystals are under the skin, they provoke repeated cycles of inflammation. Over time, the inflammation produces a build-up of scar tissue that blocks lymphatic vessels and produces dramatic and disabling swelling and open sores in the lower legs.

Mysterious outbreak of disfiguring tropical disease in western Uganda linked to decades of walking barefoot in volcanic soils | EurekAlert! Science News