Fate of Fertilizer P in Soils—The Organic Pathway

  • Emmanuel FrossardEmail author
  • Else K Bünemann
  • Lucie Gunst
  • Astrid Oberson
  • Michael Schärer
  • Federica Tamburini


This chapter addresses the following questions: (i) is phosphorus (P) that passes through the “organic pathway”, i.e. that is found at some point in time in an organic form or within soil organisms or plant residues completely used by plants (100 % use by plants) and (ii) does P that passes through the “organic pathway” fully remain in the soil/plant system (zero losses to the environment). Positive answers to these questions would lead to the conclusion that P management could be optimized by increasing soil organic P content and soil biological activity. The chapter begins with a short presentation of the actors of the “organic pathway”, and how their dynamics influence soil P transformations. Then we show how the “organic pathway” controls soil P availability in natural systems and how soils under native vegetation can lose significant amounts of P during their pedogenesis. Afterwards we discuss the role of the “organic pathway” in determining P availability and limiting P losses in agricultural systems. The analysis of exemplary cropping systems studied in the Swiss DOK field experiment (bio-Dynamic, bio-Organic and conventional (K) cropping systems) shows that it is not possible to reach 100 % apparent P recovery and that the recovery is negatively correlated with soil available inorganic P (Pi). A high apparent P fertilizer recovery is observed in the system in which the soil shows the highest biological activity. This high recovery can be explained by the low P inputs in this treatment and by the transfer of P through the soil biota . However, this high recovery can also be interpreted as an artifact in the calculation of the apparent recovery rate, concealing a higher use of P derived from the soil in this treatment. The higher use of soil P by crops can be explained by the higher root colonization by mycorrhizal fungi and by the good soil structure observed in this treatment. In permanent grasslands, the very high microbial P content observed in the upper soil horizon suggests that the “organic pathway” plays a major role in taking up and releasing P to the plants. Finally, the importance of this pathway for limiting P losses from agricultural systems is discussed. Whereas it might have a role for conserving P in the soil profile, it is probably not the most important point to address for limiting P losses from agricultural systems.


Fertilizer use Immobilization Losses Mineralization Organic P P availability 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emmanuel Frossard
    • 1
    Email author
  • Else K Bünemann
    • 1
  • Lucie Gunst
    • 2
  • Astrid Oberson
    • 1
  • Michael Schärer
    • 3
  • Federica Tamburini
    • 1
  1. 1.Group of Plant Nutrition, Institute of Agricultural SciencesETH ZurichLindauSwitzerland
  2. 2.Agroscope Reckenholz-Tänikon ARTZurichSwitzerland
  3. 3.Abteilung Wasser Sektion Oberflächengewässer QualitätBundesamt für Umwelt BAFUBernSwitzerland

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