Plant and Soil

, Volume 393, Issue 1–2, pp 193–205 | Cite as

Similar phosphorus transfer from cover crop residues and water-soluble mineral fertilizer to soils and a subsequent crop

Regular Article


Background and aims

Cover crops provide benefits in agricultural systems with high P availability (i.e., optimal or excessive soil P for plant growth) by reducing losses of soil phosphorus (P) via erosion and leaching, and potentially by increasing soil P availability when P is released during residue decomposition. We quantified P transfer from cover crop residues to soil pools and a subsequent wheat crop in a greenhouse experiment.


Soils from two field experiments in California (Davis and Salinas) were labeled with carrier-free 33P and amended at a rate of 15 mg P kg−1 soil with cover crop residues (rye, oat, fava bean, vetch, mustard, rye-legumes mixture) or water-soluble mineral fertilizer. We analyzed plants and several soil pools – resin, microbial, and organic – for P and 33P.


In both soils, residues and water-soluble mineral fertilizer had a similar effect on soil pools and wheat P uptake, except for higher microbial and organic P with residues in the Davis soil. Residues contributed 35–40 % (Davis) or 20–25 % (Salinas) of the P taken up by wheat, and 13–22 % (Davis) or 8–14 % (Salinas) of residue P was recovered in wheat.


Our results demonstrate that P taken up by cover crops can cycle rapidly in agricultural systems with high soil P availability, with direct benefits for soil P availability and few differences among these cover crop species.


Fava bean (Vicia fabaPurple vetch (Vicia benghalensisRye (Secale cerealeOat (Avena sativaWinter wheat (Triticum aestivumWhite mustard (Sinapis alba



We thank E. Torbert, I. Herrera and E. Brennan for access to field sites; D. Sarkisian, A. Overbeek and M. Patterson for lab assistance; G. van Dijken and K. Arrigo for technical assistance with the LSC counter; P. Vitousek, A. Oberson, E. K. Bünemann and two anonymous reviewers for comments.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

This research was partially funded by a graduate fellowship to G. Maltais-Landry from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC) and the Fonds Québécois de la Recherche sur la Nature et les Technologies (FQRNT), and a Doctoral Dissertation Improvement Grant (DDIG) from the National Science Foundation (NSF). The authors declare no conflict of interest and certify that principles of ethical and professional conduct have been followed at all stages involved in the preparation of this manuscript.

Supplementary material

11104_2015_2477_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (127 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 126 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of BiologyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Plant Nutrition GroupETH ZürichZürichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Faculty of Land and Food SystemsVancouverCanada

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