Resource partitioning for soil phosphorus: a hypothesis


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  • 1Organic phosphorus is abundant in soil and its turnover can supply a considerable fraction of the phosphorus taken up by natural vegetation. Despite this, the ecological significance of organic phosphorus remains poorly understood, which is remarkable given the biological importance of phosphorus in terrestrial environments.
  • 2Of particular interest is the possibility that coexisting plant species partition soil organic phosphorus to reduce competition. This seems likely given the large number of biologically available phosphorus compounds that occur in soil and the variety of mechanisms by which plants can utilize them.
  • 3Here I propose a conceptual model of resource partitioning for soil phosphorus. The model describes a hypothetical example of four coexisting plant species that differ in their ability to access soil organic phosphorus compounds, which are grouped to form a gradient of biological availability based on the processes involved in their utilization by plants.
  • 4Synthesis: Resource partitioning for soil phosphorus could provide an additional mechanism to explain the coexistence and distribution of plant species. It is likely to occur widely in terrestrial environments, but should have greatest ecological significance wherever productivity is limited by the availability of soil phosphorus. This includes freshwater wetlands, super-humid temperate regions and ecosystems developed on strongly-weathered soils that cover vast areas of ancient landscapes in Africa, Australia and South America.