Agricultural intensification over the last few decades has been accompanied by the extensive use of anthropogenic phosphorus (P) derived from mined phosphate rock. Given the increasing scarcity of P resources, accurate estimates of the reliance of agriculture on anthropogenic P are required. Here we propose a modeling approach for assessing the contribution of anthropogenic P to agricultural soil fertility and food production. We performed computations at country level, and France was chosen as a typical western European country with intensive agriculture. Four soil P pools were identified based on their bioavailability (labile versus stable) and origin (anthropogenic versus natural). Pool evolution between 1948 and 2009 was estimated by combining international databases and a simple biogeochemical model. An optimization procedure demonstrated the necessity of representing a stable P pool capable of replenishing the labile pool within 14 to 33 years in order to match country-scale observations. Mean simulated P pool sizes for 2009 (0–35 cm soil horizon) were 146, 616, 31, and 156 kgP/ha for natural stable, anthropogenic stable, natural labile, and anthropogenic labile pools, respectively. We found that, on average, 82% (min-max: 68–91%) of soil P (sum of labile and above defined stable) in that year was anthropogenic. The temporal evolution of this contribution is directly related to the integral of chemical fertilizer use over time, starting from 1948. The contribution of anthropogenic P to food production was similar at 84% (min-max: 72–91%), which is greater than budget-based estimates (~50–60%) commonly reported in the literature. By focusing on soil fertility and food production, this study provides a quantitative estimation of human perturbations of the P cycle in agroecosystems.
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