In desert soils, phosphorus (P) cycling is controlled by both geochemical and biological factors and remains less studied than nitrogen and carbon. We examined these P cycling factors in the context of biological soil crusts (biocrusts), which are important drivers of nutrient cycling in drylands and have the potential to release bound labile P. We adopted the biologically-based P (BBP) method, which allows examination of biologically relevant P fractions. The BBP method incorporates four extractions: dilute calcium chloride (CaCl2
), citric acid, phosphatase enzymes, and hydrochloric acid (HCl). We coupled the extractions with a 33
P-labeled orthophosphate addition and incubation to assess the fate of freshly available phosphate (PO43−
). Low P concentrations in the dilute CaCl2
extractions suggest that drylands lack accessible P in the soil solution, while higher amounts in the citric acid- and enzyme-extractable pools suggest that dryland microbes may acquire P through the release of organic acids and phosphatases. The addition of 33
was, within 24 h, quickly adsorbed onto mineral surfaces or incorporated into hydrolysable organic compounds. Areas with biocrusts showed overall lower P concentrations across all four extractable pools. This suggests that biocrust organisms may prevent P adsorption onto mineral surfaces by incorporating P into their biomass. Overall, our results indicate that organisms may have to employ several viable strategies, including organic acid and enzyme production, to access P in dryland soils.
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