What processes control the oxygen isotopes of soil bio-available phosphate?

Avner Gross, Alon Angert

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

38 Scopus citations


The biological availability of phosphorus (P) is considered to be the limiting factor for plant growth in many natural and agricultural soils. Recent studies demonstrated that valuable information on soil P dynamics can be gained from the stable oxygen isotopes of soil phosphate (δ18OP). However, to interpret this information correctly, our understanding of the processes that controls soil phosphate δ18OP values needs to be improved since most of the current data is based primarily on laboratory studies of pure microbial cultures and enzymatic assays and may not be relevant to soils. Here we designed a series of controlled soil incubation experiments to study the actual isotopic effects induced by abiotic reactions, biological uptake, microbial turnover and organic-P mineralization on soil phosphate δ18OP values. We used this data to estimate the role of these processes in mediating soil P availability. Our study was conducted on Mediterranean soils sampled from the same site during winter, spring and summer. The soils were incubated with various mineral and organic-P compounds and their bioavailable phosphate concentrations and δ18OP values were measured. We confirmed that the role of abiotic reactions on phosphate δ18OP values was negligible and that the δ18OP values of the added phosphate were rapidly driven towards isotopic equilibrium with soil water. We suggest this process was mediated by rapid microbial phosphate turnover. Yet, we did not detect the expected isotopic enrichment effect associated with phosphate biological uptake. In another set of incubation experiments we demonstrated that mineralization of phosphate from organic compounds, such as phospho-mono-ester (PME) and phosphor-di-ester (PDE), produced an offset from isotopic equilibrium, as a result of the strong isotopic fractionation associated with the mineralization process. However, the δ18OP values recorded by the mineralized phosphate were gradually driven back towards isotopic equilibrium, probably due to its rapid microbial turnover after its release. By identifying the isotopic effects of the different processes in soils we could use a simple isotopic calculation to estimate the extent of biological phosphate turnover in our experimental system.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)100-111
Number of pages12
JournalGeochimica et Cosmochimica Acta
StatePublished - 5 Jun 2015
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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