Improving phosphorus sustainability in intensively managed grasslands: The potential role of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi.Sci Total Environ. 2020 Mar 01; 706:135744.ST
Long-term nutrient fertilization of grassland soils greatly increases plant yields but also profoundly alters ecosystem phosphorus (P) dynamics. Here, we addressed how long-term P fertilization may affect ecosystem P budget, P use efficiency (PUE) and the abundance of arbuscular mycorrhizal fungi (AMF), which play a key role in the acquisition of P by plants. We found that 47 years of organic P applications increased soil P availability and total soil P stocks up to 1600% and 400%, respectively, compared to unfertilized-control soils. Grassland soils could retain up to 62% and 48% of P applied since 1970 in organic and inorganic forms, respectively. Nutrient treatments significantly affected rates of AMF root colonization (%), which were higher in control and NPK-fertilized plots when compared to soils receiving increasing applications of organic P. Plant PUE increased with greater AMF root colonization, which remained high (i.e. 50-to-75%) even after ~50 years of continuous 'normal' rates of agronomic P inputs (~30 kg P ha-1 year-1). AMF abundance, however, decreased under higher P applications and we found a negative relationship between soil P availability or soil P stocks and rates of AMF root colonization. Our study demonstrates that (1) AMF root colonization is still high in soils, which have received consistent but moderate P inputs for over four decades, and (2) moderate rates of P fertilization are related to a more conservative P ecosystem budget whereby the amount of P retained in soils and up-taken by plants on an annual basis is higher than the amount of P added through fertilization. This is possible only if extra P is 'mined' from the soil P 'bank' and made available to plant uptake. We suggest that AMF could play a significant role in intensively-managed grasslands contributing to increase P sustainability by reducing the need for extra P fertilizer.