Organic acid behavior in soils - Misconceptions and knowledge gaps

D. L. Jones, P. G. Dennis, A. G. Owen, P. A.W. Van Hees

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

504 Citations (Scopus)


Organic acids have been hypothesized to perform many functions in soil including root nutrient acquisition, mineral weathering, microbial chemotaxis and metal detoxification. However, their role in most of these processes remains unproven due to a lack of fundamental understanding about the reactions of organic acids in soil. This review highlights some of the knowledge gaps and misconceptions associated with the behavior of organic acids in soil with particular reference to low-molecular-weight organic acids (e.g., citrate, oxalate, malate) and plant nutrient acquisition. One major concern is that current methods for quantifying organic acids in soil may vastly underestimate soil solution concentrations and do not reveal the large spatial heterogeneity that may exist in their concentration (e.g., around roots or microbes). Another concern relates to the interaction of organic acids with the soil's solid phase and the lack of understanding about the relative importance of processes such as adsorption versus precipitation, and sorption versus desorption. Another major knowledge gap concerns the utilization of organic acids by the soil microbial community and the forms of organic acids that they are capable of degrading (e.g., metal-complexed organic acids, adsorbed organic acids etc). Without this knowledge it will be impossible to obtain accurate mathematical models of organic acid dynamics in soil and to understand their role and importance in ecosystem processes. Fundamental research on organic acids and their interaction with soil still needs to be done to fully elucidate their role in soil processes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)31-41
Number of pages11
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1-2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 2003
Externally publishedYes


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