Nutrient Cycling in Agroecosystems

, Volume 59, Issue 1, pp 47–63 | Cite as

Amelioration of Al toxicity and P deficiency in acid soils by additions of organic residues: a critical review of the phenomenon and the mechanisms involved

  • R.J. HaynesEmail author
  • M.S. Mokolobate


High rates of lime and fertilizer-P are characteristically required to obtain high crop yields on highly weathered acid soils. Much of the agriculture in the southern tropical belt, where acid soils predominate, is carried out by resource-poor, semi-subsistence farmers who are unable to purchase large quantities of lime and fertilizer. There are, however, a number of reports that additions of organic residues to acid soils can reduce Al toxicity (thus lowering the lime requirement) and improve P availability. The literature regarding these effects is sparse and disjointed and an integrated overview of the probable mechanisms responsible and their implications is presented and discussed. During decomposition of organic residues, a wide range of organic compounds are released from the residues and/or are synthesized by the decomposer microflora. The two most important groups in relation to Al toxicity and P availability are soluble humic molecules and low molecular weight aliphatic organic acids. Both these groups of substances can complex with phytotoxic monomeric Al in soil solution thus detoxifying it and they can also be adsorbed to Al and Fe oxide surfaces consequently blocking P adsorption sites. During residue decomposition, there is often a transitory increase in soil pH and this induces a decrease in exchangeable and soil solution Al through their precipitation as insoluble hydroxy-Al compounds. It also confers a greater negative charge on oxide surfaces and thus tends to decrease P adsorption. The increase in pH has been attributed to a number of causes including oxidation of organic acid anions present in decomposing residues, ammonification of residue N, specific adsorption of organic molecules produced during decomposition and reduction reactions induced by anaerobiosis. There are also mechanisms specific to either Al detoxification or improved soil P status. For example, regular applications of organic residues will induce a long-term increase in soil organic matter content. Complexation of Al by the newly-formed organic matter will tend to reduce the concentrations of exchangeable and soluble Al present. As organic residues decompose, P is released and this can become adsorbed to oxide surfaces. This will, in turn, reduce the extent of adsorption of subsequently added P thus increasing P availability. The practical implication of the processes discussed is that organic residues could be used as a strategic tool to reduce the rates of lime and fertilizer P required for optimum crop production on acidic, P-fixing soils. Further research is, therefore, warranted to investigate the use of organic residues in the management of acid soils.

aluminium toxicity humic substances lime manure organic acids organic matter phosphate adsorption 


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© Kluwer Academic Publishers 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Applied Environmental SciencesUniversity of Natal, PietermaritzburgScottsvilleRepublic of South Africa
  2. 2.School of Applied Environmental SciencesUniversity of Natal, PietermaritzburgScottsvilleRepublic of South Africa

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