Soil chemical and fertilizer influences on soluble and medium-sized colloidal phosphorus in agricultural soils

M. Fresne, P. Jordan, O. Fenton, P.-E. Mellander, K. Daly

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Colloid-facilitated transport can be important for preferential transfer of phosphorus (P) through the soil profile to groundwater and may in part explain elevated P concentrations in surface water during baseflow and particularly high flow conditions. To investigate the potential for colloidal P (P coll) mobilisation in soils, this study assessed the role of soil chemical properties and P fertilizer type on medium-sized soil P coll (200–450 nm) and its association with soil solution soluble bioavailable P (<450 nm). Hillslope soils from three agricultural catchments were sampled and untreated and treated (cattle slurry and synthetic fertilizer) subsamples were incubated. Soil supernatants were analysed for P and soil Water Dispersible Colloids (WDC) were extracted for analysis of P and P-binding materials. Soils physicochemical properties including degree of P saturation (DPS) and P sorption properties were determined. Results indicated that medium-sized P coll was mostly unreactive P associated to some extent to amorphous forms of Fe. Medium-sized P coll concentrations correlated negatively with soil maximum P sorption capacity and soluble P concentrations increased with increasing DPS. In soil with low sorption properties, cattle slurry increased soluble P concentrations by 0.008–0.013 mg l −1 and DPS but did not influence medium-sized P coll. Synthetic fertilizer increased medium-sized reactive P coll by 0.011 mg l −1 (0.088 mg kg −1 soil) and DPS in a soil with lower DPS whereas it decreased it by 0.005 mg l −1 (0.040 mg kg −1 soil) in a soil with higher DPS. Additional soil parameters (M3-Fe, M3-Al, M3-P, and DPS) should be included in soil testing, especially in Cambisol/Podzol soils, to identify critical areas where risks of P coll mobilisation are important. Further research should include the roles of finer colloidal and nanoparticulate (<200 nm) soil P fractions and soluble P to inform understanding of plant uptake and assess environmental risk.

Original languageEnglish
Article number142112
Number of pages11
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Early online date1 Sep 2020
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • Soil water dispersible colloids, Mobilisation, Cattle slurry, Synthetic fertilizer, Agriculture, Groundwater pollution


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