Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Science



First Advisor

Schoonover, Jon


Agricultural runoff is a major non-point source pollutant in the Midwest and has been documented as a significant contributor to nutrient loads in the Mississippi River and subsequent hypoxic conditions in the Gulf of Mexico. In an attempt to minimize eutrophication, researchers have been collaborating with farmers to improve best management practices targeting nutrient retention. Over the past four decades riparian buffers have proven effective in retaining nutrients and sediment from agricultural runoff. We hypothesize that the addition of biochar to vegetated buffers can further improve nutrient attenuation by enhancing nutrient adsorption and cycling soil physical, chemical, and biological properties. In June 2012, fifteen flumes were established adjacent to fifteen existing flumes that were installed in 2008 for a related study at Southern Illinois University's farms. Each flume was either vegetated and/or amended with one of ten treatments and replicated three times: 1) giant cane (Arundinaria gigantea (Walt.) Muhl) established in 2008; 2) Kentucky bluegrass (Poa pratensis L.); 3) orchardgrass (Dactylis glomerata L.); 4) giant cane and compost (i.e., horse manure and mushroom compost); 5) biochar (i.e., pine and oak feedstock pyrolyzed between 450 °C and 650 °C.); 6) biochar and giant cane; 7) biochar, giant cane, and compost; 8) corn; 9) volunteer herbaceous species; and 10) a non-amended, non-vegetated control. Soil samples were collected prior to the application of soil amendments and nutrients were assessed annually. Surface runoff samples were collected from significant rain events (i.e., precipitation > 2.5 cm) and analyzed for nutrient and sediment levels. Data indicate that various combinations of biochar, compost, and giant cane were successful at reducing the frequency of surface runoff events as well as reducing concentrations of NO3- and NH4+ in agricultural surface runoff. Concentrations of dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) were greatly reduced when biochar and giant cane were present in the buffer without the addition of compost. Total phosphorus (TP) concentrations were lowest for the established giant cane treatment. There were no significant differences in the concentrations of total suspended solids (TSS) among the various buffer treatments. Data from this study are promising for the incorporation of biochar, compost, and giant cane into vegetated buffers to reduce the concentration of nutrients in agricultural surface runoff.




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