Plant and Soil

, Volume 367, Issue 1–2, pp 41–55 | Cite as

The phosphorus concentration of common rocks—a potential driver of ecosystem P status

  • Stephen PorderEmail author
  • Sohini Ramachandran
Regular Article



Soil phosphorus (P) availability can be an important regulator of ecosystem processes. Changes in P availability over time have long been studied, but the P concentration of soil parent materials—which determines ecosystem P concentration at the onset of soil formation—have never been systematically explored. Here we ask two questions: 1) how does P concentration vary among soil parent materials? and 2) under what range of conditions do those differences influence soil P concentration?


We used the Earthchem webportal to compile the P concentration of 263,539 rocks. We then gathered data from 62 sites (MAT ranging from 200–5,000 mm yr-1 and soil age from 0.3–4,100 ky) and assessed the correlation between rock and soil P concentration.


We found a 30 fold difference in median P concentration among rock types, ranging from 120 ppm (several ultramafic rocks) to >3,000 ppm (several alkali basalts). Median P was significantly lower in common silica-rich rocks (e.g. granite - 436 ppm) and higher in common iron-rich rocks (e.g. andesite - 1,000 ppm). In sedimentary rocks, which make up 70 % of the ice-free land surface, median P was highest in mudstone (1,135 ppm) and decreased with increasing grainsize (siltstone-698 ppm, sandstone-500 ppm). Where soil P and parent material P were measured in the same site, parent material P explained 42 % of the variance in total soil P (n = 62), and explanatory power was higher for sites with similar climate.


The variation in P concentration among common rock types is on a comparable scale to the changes in total P, and several P pools, over long-term soil development. Quantifying these differences may be an important step towards characterizing regional and global variation in soil and ecosystem P status.


Phosphorus Parent material Bedrock Nutrient EarthChem 



The authors would like to thank Benjamin Turner for putting together this special issue, Leo Condron, Rich McDowell, and one anonymous reviewer for helpful comments on previous versions of this manuscript. This work was funded by grants from the National Science Foundation (DEB 0918387) and the Andrew Mellon Foundation to S.P.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Ecology and Evolutionary BiologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA
  2. 2.Center for Computational Molecular BiologyBrown UniversityProvidenceUSA

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