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Phosphorus dynamics during early soil development in a cold desert: insights from oxygen isotopes in phosphate
Soil  (IF5.841),  Pub Date : 2022-01-12, DOI: 10.5194/soil-8-1-2022
Zuzana Frkova, Chiara Pistocchi, Yuliya Vystavna, Katerina Capkova, Jiri Dolezal, Federica Tamburini

At the early stages of pedogenesis, the dynamics of phosphorus (P) in soils are controlled by microbial communities, the physicochemical properties of the soil and the environmental conditions. While various microorganisms involved in carrying out biogeochemical processes have been identified, little is known about the actual contribution of microbial processes, such as organic P hydrolysis and microbial P turnover, to P cycling. We thus focused on processes driven by microbes and how they affect the size and cycling of organic and inorganic soil P pools along a soil chronosequence in the Chamser Kangri glacier forefield (Western Himalayas). The rapid retreat of the glacier allowed us to study the early stages of soil formation under a cold arid climate. Biological P transformations were studied with the help of the isotopic composition of oxygen (O) in phosphate (δ18OP) coupled to sequential P fractionation performed on soil samples (0–5 cm depth) from four sites of different age spanning 0 to 100–150 years. The P bound to Ca, i.e., 1 M HCl-extractable P, still represented 95 % of the total P stock after approximately 100 years of soil development. Its isotopic composition was similar to the parent material at the most developed site. Primary phosphate minerals, possibly apatite, mostly comprised this pool. The δ18OP of the available P and the NaOH-extractable inorganic P instead differed from that of the parent material, suggesting that these pools underwent biological turnover. The δ18OP of the available P was mostly controlled by the microbial P, suggesting fast exchanges occurred between these two pools possibly fostered by repeated freezing–thawing and drying–rewetting cycles. The release of P from organic P becomes increasingly important with soil age, constituting one-third of the P flux to available P at the oldest site. Accordingly, the lighter isotopic composition of the P bound to Fe and Al oxides at the oldest site indicated that this pool contained phosphate released by organic P mineralization. Compared to previous studies on early pedogenesis under alpine or cold climate, our findings suggest a much slower decrease of the P-bearing primary minerals during the first 100 years of soil development under extreme conditions. However, they provide evidence that, by driving short-term P dynamics, microbes play an important role in controlling the redistribution of primary P into inorganic and organic soil P pools.