, Volume 6, Issue 3, pp 181-199

Nutrient mobility in variable- and permanent-charge soils

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Variable-charge (v-c) and permanent-charge (p-c) soils differ fundamentally with regard to many nutrient-cycling processes. Variable-charge soils are more common in the tropics than in temperature zones because their formation requires desilication, which proceeds fastest in warm, moist climates. The dynamics of nutrient mobility tend to be more complex in v-c than in p-c soils. For example, theory predicts that, as pH of v-c soils decreases, cation exchange capacity (CEC) also decreases and anion exchange capacity (AEC) increases. If AEC exceeds CEC, cations such as ammonium and potassium will be more mobile than anions such as nitrate; this is the reverse of the situation in p-c soils, on which most of our knowledge of nutrient cycling is based. Variable-charge surfaces sorb phosphorus, creating plant nutritional problems throughout large areas of the humid tropics. Desilication, the same process that creates v-c surfaces, results also in stable aggregation, creating soils that retain water, yet drain rapidly and resist erosion. The Soil Taxonomy system incorporates information on mineralogy, texture, and organic matter content, and therefore provides insights into patterns of charge chemistry and nutrient cycling across a wide range of soil types.