Activated carbon may have undesired side effects for testing allelopathy in invasive plants

Weisshuhn, Karoline; Prati, Daniel (2009). Activated carbon may have undesired side effects for testing allelopathy in invasive plants. Basic and applied ecology, 10(6), pp. 500-507. Elsevier 10.1016/j.baae.2008.10.009

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Activated carbon has become a widely used tool to investigate root-mediated allelopathy of plants, especially in plant invasion biology, because it adsorbs and thereby neutralizes root exudates. Allelopathy has been a controversially debated phenomenon for years, which revived in plant invasion biology as one possible reason for the success of invasive plants. Noxious plant exudates may harm other plants and provide an advantage to the allelopathic plant. However, root exudates are not always toxic, but may stimulate the microbial community and change nutrient availability in the rhizosphere. In a greenhouse experiment, we investigated the interacting effects of activated carbon, arbuscular mycorrhiza and plant competition between the invasive Senecio inaequidens and the native Artemisia vulgaris. Furthermore, we tested whether activated carbon showed any undesired effects by directly affecting mycorrhiza or soil chemistry. Contrary to the expectation, S. inaequidens was a weak competitor and we could not support the idea that allelopathy was involved in the competition. Activated carbon led to a considerable increase in the aboveground biomass production and reduced the infection with arbuscular mycorrhiza of both plant species. We expected that arbuscular mycorrhiza promotes plant growth by increasing nutrient availability, but we found the contrary when activated carbon was added. Chemical analyses of the substrate showed, that adding activated carbon resulted in a strong increase in plant available phosphate and in a decrease of the C(organic)/N(total) ration both of which suggest stimulated microbial activity. Thus, activated carbon not only reduced potential allelopathic effects, but substantially changed the chemistry of the substrate. These results show that activated carbon should be handled with great care in ecological experiments on allelopathy because of possible confounding effects on the soil community.

Item Type:

Journal Article (Original Article)


08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS)
08 Faculty of Science > Department of Biology > Institute of Plant Sciences (IPS) > Plant Ecology

UniBE Contributor:

Prati, Daniel


500 Science > 580 Plants (Botany)








Peter Alfred von Ballmoos-Haas

Date Deposited:

15 Aug 2014 08:24

Last Modified:

05 Dec 2014 03:43

Publisher DOI:


Uncontrolled Keywords:

Activated carbon, Allelopathy, Arbuscular mycorrhiza, Artemisia vulgaris, Competition, Invasive plants, Senecio inaequidens




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