Direct foliar acquisition of desert dust phosphorus fertilizes forest trees despite reducing photosynthesis

Maya Starr, Tamir Klein, Avner Gross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Phosphorus (P) availability to forest trees is often limited by local soil conditions that increase its fixation to soil minerals. In certain regions, atmospheric-P inputs can compensate for low soil-P availability. Among atmospheric-P sources, desert dust is the most dominant. However, the effects of desert dust on P nutrition and its uptake mechanisms by forest trees are currently unknown. We hypothesized that forest trees that naturally grow on P-poor soils or soils with high soil-P fixation capacity can acquire P from desert dust deposited on their leaves via direct foliar uptake, bypassing the soil, thus promoting tree growth and productivity. We performed a controlled greenhouse experiment with three forest tree species: Palestine Oak (Quercus calliprinos) and Carob (Ceratonia siliqua), native to the NE edge of the Saharan desert, and Brazilian peppertree (Schinus terebinthifolius), native to the Atlantic Forest in Brazil, which is located on the western part of the trans-Atlantic Saharan dust route. To simulate natural dust deposition events, the trees had desert dust applied directly upon their foliage and were monitored for growth and final biomass, P levels, leaf surface pH and the rate of photosynthesis. The dust treatment increased the P concentration significantly by 33-37% in Ceratonia and Schinus trees. On the other hand, trees that received the dust displayed a 17-58% reduction in biomass, probably related to particle coverage of the leaf surface that inhibited photosynthesis by 17-30%. Overall, our findings show that direct P uptake from desert dust can be an alternative P uptake pathway for multiple tree species under P-deficient conditions, with implications for forest trees' P economy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)794-804
Number of pages11
JournalTree Physiology
Issue number5
StatePublished - 1 May 2023


  • foliar uptake
  • leaf surface
  • plant nutrition

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Physiology
  • Plant Science


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