Plant and Soil

, Volume 427, Issue 1–2, pp 53–69 | Cite as

Phosphorus speciation and C:N:P stoichiometry of functional organic matter fractions in temperate forest soils

  • Simon Stahr
  • Markus Graf-Rosenfellner
  • Wantana Klysubun
  • Robert Mikutta
  • Jörg Prietzel
  • Friederike Lang
Regular Article


Background and aims

Phosphorus (P) availability is crucial for forest ecosystem productivity and soil organic matter (SOM) is an important source for P. This study was conducted to reveal carbon (C), nitrogen (N) and P distributions in functional SOM fractions. We hypothesised that (1) most of the organic P (Porg) is part of the particulate SOM, (2) particulate SOM stores increasing share of P with decreasing soil P content and (3) the C:Porg ratio of mineral-associated SOM is smaller than that of particulate SOM.


We analysed soil samples from five temperate forest sites (Fagus sylvatica) under different geological parent material with a wide range of total P concentrations. Density fractionation was used to separate free light fraction (fLF), particulate SOM occluded within soil aggregates (occluded light fraction; oLF), and mineral associated SOM (heavy fraction; HF). We determined the mass balance of P in these fractions, in addition to the C and N concentrations. Additionally, the P speciation of the topsoil was analysed by X-ray absorption near edge structure (XANES) spectroscopy at the P K-edge.


The fLF contained 18–54% and the oLF 1–15% of total P (Ptot). High percentage of P in these light fractions was associated to soil minerals. Phosphorous in particulate SOM within aggregates tend to increase with decreasing soil P. The HF containing mineral-associated OM, comprised 38–71% of Ptot and their C:Porg ratios were consistently lower than those of the fLF irrespective of the P status of the soil.


We show that all three functional SOM fractions contain variable amount of both organic and inorganic P species. The free light fraction shows no response to changing P stocks of soils.. Despite physically protected particulate SOM, oLF, becomes increasingly relevant as P cache in soils with declining P status.


Ecosystem nutrition Density fractions Soil organic matter C:N:P ratio Phosphorus P K-edge XANES 



Dissolved organic matter


Free light fraction


Heavy fraction


Inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectrometry


Linear combination fitting


Occluded light fraction


Organic matter


Soil organic matter


Sodium polytungstate


Ultraviolet–visible spectroscopy


X-ray absorption near edge structure



We want to thank the German Research Foundation DFG for funding this study as part of the priority program SPP 1685 (Projects: LA 1398/12-1, MI 1377/7-1and PR 534/6-1) and Sigrid Hiesch for the carefully realisation of the HNO3/HClO4/HF digestion.

Supplementary material

11104_2017_3394_MOESM1_ESM.docx (112 kb)
ESM 1 (DOCX 112 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Soil EcologyAlbert Ludwig University of FreiburgFreiburgGermany
  2. 2.Synchrotron Light Research InstituteNakhon RatchasimaThailand
  3. 3.Soil Science and Soil ProtectionMartin Luther University Halle-WittenbergHalle (Saale)Germany
  4. 4.Soil ScienceTechnical University of MunichFreisingGermany

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