Phosphorus-mobilization ecosystem engineering: the roles of cluster roots and carboxylate exudation in young P-limited ecosystems

Hans Lambers, J. G. Bishop, Stephen Hopper, Etienne Laliberte, A. Zuniga-Feest

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    125 Citations (Scopus)


    Carboxylate-releasing cluster roots of Proteaceae play a key role in acquiring phosphorus (P) from ancient nutrient-impoverished soils in Australia. However, cluster roots are also found in Proteaceae on young, P-rich soils in Chile where they allow P acquisition from soils that strongly sorb P.
    Unlike Proteaceae in Australia that tend to proficiently remobilize P from senescent leaves, Chilean Proteaceae produce leaf litter rich in P. Consequently, they may act as ecosystem engineers, providing P for plants without specialized roots to access sorbed P. We propose a similar ecosystem-engineering role for species that release large amounts of carboxylates in other relatively young, strongly P-sorbing substrates, e.g. young acidic volcanic deposits and calcareous dunes. Many of these species also fix atmospheric nitrogen and release nutrient-rich litter, but their role as ecosystem engineers is commonly ascribed only to their diazotrophic nature.
    We propose that the P-mobilizing capacity of Proteaceae on young soils, which contain an abundance of P, but where P is poorly available, in combination with inefficient nutrient remobilization from senescing leaves allows these species to function as ecosystem engineers. We suggest that diazotrophic species that colonize young soils with strong P-sorption potential should be considered for their positive effect on P availability, as well as their widely accepted role in nitrogen fixation. Their P-mobilizing activity possibly also enhances their nitrogen-fixing capacity. These diazotrophic species may therefore facilitate the establishment and growth of species with less-efficient P-uptake strategies on more-developed soils with low P availability through similar mechanisms. We argue that the significance of cluster roots and high carboxylate exudation in the development of young ecosystems is probably far more important than has been envisaged thus far
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)329 - 348
    JournalAnnals of Botany
    Issue number2
    Early online date13 Jun 2012
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2012


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