Long-term Effects of Fertilization on Phosphorus Biogeochemical Pools in Forest Soils
Miller, Bradley W.
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Southern pines are typically limited by nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P) availability in the soil environment. While the absolute quantities of P in forests soils may be large, the concentration of inorganic P in the soil solution is typically very small (< 0.01 mg L²-1). A onetime application of just 56 kg P ha²-1 can substantially increase growth of pine stands over a 20 year rotation (Pritchett and Comerford, 1982; Allen et al., 1990). Phosphorus fertilization of Pinus radiata in New Zealand has also shown long-term effects on labile P pools in the soil which improved stand growth during the subsequent rotations (Ballard, 1978; Gentle et al., 1986). Identifying and quantifying the biologically available P pools in the soil environment will help foresters in making site-specific P fertilizer prescriptions. I examined soil phosphorus pools using the Hedley sequential fractionation procedure and Mehlich-3 soil tests in a long-term loblolly pine (Pinus taeda L.) fertilization trial from four sites in the Atlantic and Gulf Coastal Plains. After 22 years, fertilization effects were limited to the surface depths. Mehlich-3 extractable P was largest in the soil surface (0-10 cm) of the fertilized treatments plots. Hedley labile and moderately labile P pools were also largest in the soil surface and decreased with depth. Results from the Hedley fractionation procedure suggested that the Virginia site has a large pool of organic P in the soil surface. Organic P pools can represent 20-90% of the total P present in most mineral soils increasing with the age of the soil (Condron et al., 2005). This increase in organic P pool suggests that biological cycling becomes more important as the stand develops (Wells and Jorgensen 1975). I used solution 31P nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy to characterize organic P extracted with NaOH-EDTA in the surface of a Paleaquults from coastal Virginia. Total NaOH-EDTA extractable P was significantly larger in the fertilized treatment. Concentrations ranged from 0.1 mg P L²-1 in the control plots to 5.1 mg P L²-1 in fertilized plots. The surface soils in both treatments were dominated by inorganic orthophosphate. Monoester P compounds were the only organic P compounds detected and were present in very low quantities. The significant increase of NaOH/EDTA extractable P in the soil surface of the VA site suggested there has been a beneficial long-term effect of fertilization similar to the observations from the Mehlich-3 soil test. Results from oxalate loading experiments on ligand exchangeable versus dissolvable P pools in the bulk soil suggested that the long-term effect of P fertilization increased oxalate dissolvable P pools. Plants and microbes have evolved a variety of mechanisms to increase P uptake in low P soil environments. These mechanisms include changes in root morphology and architecture, preferential root growth into high P microsites, the secretion of low-molecular-mass organic acids (LMMOA), and uptake via symbiotic relationships (Fox and Comerford, 1992b; Raghothama, 1999; Hinsinger, 2001; Raghothama, 2005). Results from soil samples taken from the ectomycorrhizal rhizosphere found that loblolly pine mycorrhizal roots modified the soil environment, possibly making recalcitrant P more available. In addition, the long-term effect of fertilization was a 396% increase in biologically available P. Fertilization increased loblolly pine volume growth by 57 m¹3 ha and increased the P content in the litter layer by 118%. After the stand was harvested and replanted, mineralization of the litter layer may also increase soil P pools. Results from this long-term fertilization experiment in the Coastal Plain province of Virginia have demonstrated that there has been a significant increase in soil (33.6 kg P ha²-1) and biologically available P pools (3.0 kg P ha²-1).
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