Improved resolution in autoradiography, achieved by the use of the low β energy isotope, P33, as tracer for soil phosphorus, enables the exchangeable phosphorus in a soil block to be measured quantitatively. A technique is described for the autoradiography of the P-depletion zone around the roots growing in soil, from which the P gradients are measured by microdensitometry.
The amounts of P taken up by rape (Brassica napus) on a P-treated Begbroke Sandy Loam compared well with that removed from the soil as measured from the autoradiograph of the depletion zone. The P gradient around the roots suggests intense root hair activity; but the zone of depletion extended well beyound the tips of root hairs. The experimentally observed gradient is much closer to the one predicted from diffusion theory considering uniform depletion from within the equivalent root hair cylinder, than to the one obtained assuming the root hairs are inactive.
A rapid depletion of up to about 60 per cent of the exchangeable P was observed within the root hair cylinder during the initial 3 days of absorption. The corresponding concentration of P in solution within the cylinder determined from a desorption isotherm, is hence brought down to a low level very rapidly, and is held at or near this level at later periods. The amounts transferred into the root hair cylinder from outside as calculated from a diffusion model were lower than the experimental values. It is suggested that the discrepancy may lie in the calculation of the effective diffusion coefficients for P in the soil from a P-desorption isotherm, owing to difficulties involved in simulating the root environment in the desorption isotherm experiment