Methodological interference of biochar in the determination of extracellular enzyme activities in composting samples
Biochar application has received increasing attention as a means to trap recalcitrant carbon and enhance soil fertility. Hydrolytic enzymatic assays, such as β-glucosidase and phosphatase activities, are used for the assessment of soil quality and composting process, which are based on use of p-nitrophenol (PNP) derivatives as substrate. However, sorption capacity of biochar can interfere with colorimetric determination of the hydrolysed PNP, either by the sorption of the substrate or the reaction product of hydrolysis into biochar surface. The aim of the present work is to study the biochar sorption capacity for PNP in biochar-blended composting mixtures in order to assess its impact on the estimation of the colorimetric-based enzymatic assays. A retention test was conducted by adding a solution of known amounts of PNP in universal buffer solution (pH = 5, 6.5 and 11, corresponding to the β-glucosidase, acid and alkaline phosphatase activity assays, respectively), in samples taken at the initial stage and after maturation stage from four different composting piles (two manure composting piles; PM: poultry manure, CM: cow manure and two other similar piles containing 10% of additional biochar (PM + B, CM + B)). The results show that biochar-blended composts (PM + B, CM + B) generally exhibited low enzymatic activities, compared to manure compost without biochar (PM, CM). In terms of the difference between the initial and maturation stage of composting process, the PNP retention in biochar was shown higher at maturation stage, caused most probably by an enlarged proportion of biochar inside compost mixture after the selective degradation of easily decomposable organic matter. TThe retention of PNP on biochar was influenced by pH dependency of sorption capacity of biochar and/or PNP solubility, since PNP was more efficiently retained by biochar at low pH values (5 and 6.5) than at high pH values (11).