The leak in the phosphorus cycle - exploring the mechanisms and controls of phosphorus leaching in soils of acquiring and recycling forest ecosystems

Break neu


Phosphorus is a key nutrient in ecosystems. During ecosystem development, forest ecosystems gradually change from the acquisition of rock P to the recycling of organic P. Orthophosphate and dissolved organic P (DOP) are released in the organic layers and partly leached into the mineral soil. Our results obtained during phase 1 of SPP 1685 indicate decreasing leaching of orthophosphate from organic layers with increasing recycling tendency of the forest ecosystems. In comparison, DOP does not decrease much. Most DOP is not enzymatic hydrolysable, and consequently bioavailability is little. Orthophosphate decreases with depth in the mineral soil; the decline in DOP is less strong. Likely, DOP contributes substantially to the steady P loss from all forest ecosystems, but also orthophosphate is not retained completely in the mineral soil. Yet, the factors controlling the differential production of dissolved P in organic layers of acquiring and recycling forest ecosystems are not resolved. Also, the causes for the steady leaching of dissolved P are not fully understood.
The project aims at exploring the mechanisms and controls of the mobilization and leaching of P in forest ecosystems.
Mobilization of P in organic layers will be assessed by measuring the release of P forms and DOP bioavailability in the SPP-fertilization experiment and in microcosms with organic matter of different quality. Also, we will trace the fate of 13C-labelled compounds to determine DOP turnover and the rate limiting steps in the mobilization process. By measuring P leaching with and without nutrient fertilization and from substrates with differing stoichiometry (C:P:N ratios), we can deduce if DOP production is driven by P availability or is rather a byproduct of soil organic matter cycling. In climate chambers, we will estimate the temperature dependency of P mobilization processes, which is a key factor in the P cycle.







Principal Investigators: 

Dr. Frank Hagedorn
Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL
Zürcherstrasse 111 
CH-8903 Birmensdorf
Tel.: (+41) 44 739 2463


Prof. Dr. Emmanuel Frossard
ETH Zürich
Eschikon 33
CH-8315 Lindau
Tel.: (+41) 52 354 91 41



PhD students:

Jasmin Fetzer

ETH Zürich, Swiss Federal Institute for Forest, Snow and Landscape Research WSL
Zürcherstrasse 111
CH-8903 Birmensdorf

Tel.: (+41) 44 739 2938


Study sites


Bad Brückenau (BBR)

Lüss (LUE)




Funded by


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