Greater, but not necessarily better: The influence of biochar on soil hydraulic properties

Sheikh M.F. Rabbi*, Budiman Minasny, Shuaib T. Salami, Alex B. McBratney, Iain M. Young

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

11 Scopus citations


Biochar is recommended as a soil amendment for its positive influence on soil hydrological properties, which results in improved soil fertility and crop yield. Much research in the last decade has been conducted in field and laboratory conditions on the effect of biochar on the hydraulic properties of soil. However, reported results in the literature are substantially inconsistent. Here we performed a meta-analysis to capture the variations in change in hydraulic properties of arable soils after application of different rates of biochar. The meta-analysis revealed that high biochar rates (>50 t ha−1) compared to low rates (<20 t ha−1) significantly improved dry bulk density in sandy and clay soils, in field and laboratory experiments. However, field capacity only improved in laboratory experiments on sandy soils. The plant available water, permanent wilting point and saturated hydraulic conductivity did not significantly increase at high rates of biochar application compared to the low rates when applied to different types of soils in both field and laboratory experiments. We discuss possible reasons for this, including hydrophobicity of the biochar with future research directions. We concluded that the current evidence does not support the notion that the application of biochar improves soils' available water capacity. Highlights: Meta-analysis clarifies the influence of biochar on soil hydraulic properties. Biochar addition at higher rates only improves the water holding capacity of sandy soils. Biochar types and pyrolysis temperatures do not influence soil hydraulic properties. The efficiency of biochar may depend on its pore size distribution and hydrophobicity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2033-2048
Number of pages16
JournalEuropean Journal of Soil Science
Issue number5
StatePublished - Sep 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We would like to thank Keeley Dart, The University of Sydney, Australia, for her assistance with data collection and management for this review.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 British Society of Soil Science.


  • biochar
  • bulk density
  • field capacity
  • permanent wilting point
  • plant available water
  • saturated hydraulic conductivity

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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