Phosphorus Transformations in an Oxisol under Contrasting Land-use Systems: The Role of the Soil Microbial Biomass

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It is generally assumed that phosphorus (P) availability for plant growth on highly weathered and P-deficient tropical soils may depend more on biologically mediated organic P (Po) turnover processes than on the release of adsorbed inorganic P (Pi). However, experimental evidence showing the linkages between Po, microbial activity, P cycling and soil P availability is scarce. To test whether land-use systems with higher soil Po are characterized by greater soil biological activity and increased P mineralization, we analyzed the partitioning of P among various organic and inorganic P fractions in soils of contrasting agricultural land-use systems and related it to biological soil properties. Isotopic labeling was used to obtain information on the turnover of P held in the microbial biomass. Soil samples were taken from grass–legume pasture (GL), continuous rice (CR) and native savanna (SAV) which served as reference. In agreement with estimated P budgets (+277, +70 and 0 kg P ha−1 for CR, GL and SAV, respectively), available P estimated using Bray-2 and resin extraction declined in the order CR > GL > SAV. Increases in Bray-2 and resin Pi were greater in CR than GL relative to total soil P increase. Organic P fractions were significantly less affected by P inputs than inorganic fractions, but were a more important sink in GL than CR soils. Extractable microbial P (Pchl) was slightly higher in GL (6.6 mg P kg−1) than SAV soils (5.4 mg P kg−1), and significantly lowest in CR (2.6 mg P kg−1). Two days after labeling the soil with carrier free 33P, 25, 10 and 2% of the added 33P were found in Pchl in GL, SAV and CR soils, respectively, suggesting a high and rapid microbial P turnover that was highest in GL soils. Indicators of P mineralization were higher in GL than CR soils, suggesting a greater transformation potential to render Po available. Legume-based pastures (GL) can be considered as an important land-use option as they stimulate P cycling. However, it remains to be investigated whether crops planted in pasture–crop rotations could benefit from the enhanced Po cycling in grass–legume soils. Furthermore, there is need to develop and test a direct method to quantify Po mineralization in these systems.
Phosphorus, Biomass