Organic anions commonly released from plant roots are widely reported to mobilize soil phosphorus (P). We characterized soil organic P that was mobilized by organic anions and assessed its amenability to hydrolysis by phosphatase enzymes.
Six soils differing in organic P content were extracted with citrate, malate or oxalate solutions and incubated with preparations of phosphomonoesterase, phosphodiesterase, or phytase. Organic P compounds present in these extracts were putatively identified and quantified with solution 31P NMR spectroscopy and the enzyme-labile P fractions were assessed by changes in molybdate reactive P (MRP) concentration.
Organic P mobilization varied markedly among the organic anions. Extraction with 10 mM citrate was most effective and extracted 7.8-fold more total P than the water controls across all soils. Approximately 95% of the extracted P was non-MRP. The organic anions increased both the amount of P extracted and the proportion of the total extracted P that was phosphatase labile. Phytase was generally the most effective enzyme with up to 60% of the total non-MRP being amenable to hydrolysis by phytase across all extracts. The presence of inositol hexakisphosphates in the extracts, as well as other forms of organic P including nucleic acids and phospholipids, was verified by 31P NMR with concentrations dependent on both organic anion and soil type.
The combination of organic anions and phosphatases represents a key mechanism by which plants and microorganisms can enhance the bioavailability of soil P. This has important implications for understanding P dynamics in natural and managed ecosystems and for ongoing efforts to improve the P-use efficiency of agricultural plants.