Root strategies for phosphorus acquisition

  • Jonathan P. Lynch
  • Kathleen M. Brown
Part of the Plant Ecophysiology book series (KLEC, volume 7)

Soil infertility is a primary constraint to plant productivity over the majority of the earth’s land surface. Nitrogen is often limiting in young soils of the temperate zone, while phosphorus (P) is a primary limitation in most forests, weathered soils and the humid tropics, which support the majority of terrestrial plant biomass (Walker 1965; Lynch and Deikman 1998; Figure 5.1). Low soil P availability is caused by several factors, including the reactivity of orthophosphate (Pi) with common soil constituents such as Fe and Al oxides, resulting in compounds of limited bioavailability, especially as soil weathering progresses, and the open-ended P cycle that tends towards depletion. Human activity in many managed ecosystems has reduced P bioavailability further through topsoil erosion, acidification, and nutrient mining, especially in developing countries (Hartemink 2003). Approximately 50% of the agricultural soils in the world have been degraded significantly by human activity, including 75% of the agricultural soils of Africa (Oldeman et al. 1991; Wood et al. 2000). Replenishment of soil P reserves through fertilization is common in developed countries, but the economic sustainability of this practice is in question, as economically recoverable P reserves are estimated to be 50% depleted by the middle of this century (Steen 1998; Abelson 1999). In many developing countries, especially in Africa, fertilizer use is negligible (World Bank 2004), and the productivity of many of these agroecosystems is P-limited. The development of crops and cropping systems with greater productivity on soils of low P bioavailability would substantially improve global food security (Lynch 2007). The response of terrestrial ecosystems to global climate change will depend on interactions of climate change variables with edaphic limitations to plant productivity, including P (Lynch and St. Clair 2004). The adaptation of plants to low P availability is therefore of considerable interest in both basic and applied plant biology.


Root Hair Common Bean Adventitious Root Root Trait Cluster Root 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V 2008

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jonathan P. Lynch
    • 1
  • Kathleen M. Brown
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of HorticulturePennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA

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