Soil phosphorus tests I: What soil phosphorus pools and processes do they measure?

PW. Moody, Simon Speirs, Brendan Scott, SD. Mason

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Multiple step-up linear regressions were used to identify the key soil properties affecting soil solution P, P buffer capacity, and diffusive P supply, respectively. For all soil categories, solution P concentration (measured by CaCl2-P) increased as rate of P supply (measured as FeO-P) increased and P buffer capacity decreased. As an assay of sorbed P, Colwell-P alone did not significantly (P>0.05) explain any of the variability in soil solution P, but when used in the index (Colwell-P/P buffer index), it was highly correlated (r'0.74) with CaCl2-P. Soil P buffer capacity was dependent on different properties in different soil categories, with 45-65% of the variation in PBI accounted for by various combinations of Mehlich-Al, Mehlich-Fe, total organic C, clay content, clay activity ratio, and CaCO3 content, depending on soil category. The diffusive supply of P was primarily determined by rate of P supply (measured as FeO-P; r range 0.34-0.49), with significant (P<0.05) small improvements due to the inclusion of PBICol and/or clay content, depending on soil category. For these surface soil samples, key properties of pH, clay activity ratio, clay content, and P buffer capacity varied so widely within individual Australian Soil Orders that soil classification was not useful for inferring intrinsic surface soil P properties such as P buffer capacity or the relationships between soil P tests.The phosphorus (P) status of 535 surface soils from all states of Australia was assessed using the following soil P tests: Colwell-P (0.5m NaHCO3), Olsen-P (0.5m NaHCO3), BSES-P (0.005m H2SO4), and Mehlich 3-P (0.2m CH3COOH+0.25m NH4NO3+0.015m NH4F+0.013m HNO3+0.001m EDTA). Results were correlated with soil P assays selected to estimate the following: soil solution P concentration (i.e. 0.01m CaCl2 extractable P; Colwell-P/P buffer index); rate of P supply to the soil solution (i.e. P released to FeO-impregnated filter paper); sorbed P (i.e. Colwell-P); mineral P (i.e. fertiliser reaction products and/or soil P minerals estimated as BSES-P minus Colwell-P); the diffusive supply of P (i.e. P diffusing through a thin gel film, DGT-P); and P buffer capacity (i.e. single-point P buffer index corrected for Colwell-P, PBICol). Across all soils, Colwell-P and BSES-P were highly correlated with FeO-P (r'0.76 and 0.58, respectively). Colwell-P was moderately correlated with mineral P (r'0.24), but not solution P. Olsen-P and Mehlich-P were both highly correlated with FeO-P (r'0.80 and 0.78, respectively) but, in contrast to Colwell-P and BSES-P, also showed moderate correlations with soil solution P (r'0.29 and 0.34, respectively) and diffusive P supply (r'0.31 and 0.49, respectively). Correlation coefficients with mineral P were r'0.29 for Olsen-P and r'0.17 for Mehlich-P. Soils were categorised according to their pH, clay activity ratio, content of mineral P and CaCO3 content, and the relationships between the empirical soil P tests examined for each soil category. Olsen-P and Colwell-P were correlated across all soil categories (r range 0.66-0.90), and a widely applicable linear equation was obtained for converting one soil test to the other. However, the correlations between other soil tests varied markedly between soil categories and it was not possible to develop such widely applicable conversion equations.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-468
Number of pages8
JournalCrop and Pasture Science
Publication statusPublished - 2013


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