Analysis and speciation of organic phosphorus in environmental matrices Development of methods to improve 31P NMR analysis

University dissertation from Umeå : Umeå Universitet

Abstract: Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for life on our planet. It is central in numerous biochemical processes in terrestrial and aqueous ecosystems including food production; and it is the primary growth-limiting nutrient in some of the world’s biomes. The main source of P for use as agricultural fertilizer is mining of non-renewable mineral phosphate. In terrestrial ecosystems the main source is soil P, where the largest fraction is organic P, composed of many species with widely differing properties. This fraction controls the utilization of P by plants and microorganisms and influences ecosystem development and productivity. However, there is only scarce knowledge about the molecular composition of the organic P pool, about the processes controlling its bioavailability, and about its changes as soils develop. Therefore, the aim of this thesis was to develop robust solution- and solid-state 31P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR) methods to provide molecular information about speciation of the organic P pool, and to study its dynamics in boreal and tropical soils. By studying humus soils of a groundwater recharge/discharge productivity gradient in a Fennoscandian boreal forest by solution- and solid-state NMR, it was found that P speciation changed with productivity. In particular, the level of orthophosphate diesters decreased with increasing productivity while mono-esters such as inositol phosphates increased. Because the use of solution NMR on conventional NaOH/EDTA extracts of soils was limited due to severe line broadening caused by the presence of paramagnetic metal ions, a new extraction method was developed and validated. Based on the removal of these paramagnetic impurities by sulfide precipitation, a dramatic decrease in NMR linewidths was obtained, allowing for the first time to apply modern multi-dimensional solution NMR techniques to soil extracts. Identification of individual soil P-species, and tracking changes in the organic P pools during soil development provided information for connecting P-speciation to bioavailability and ecosystem properties. Using this NMR approach we studied the transformation of organic P in humus soils along a chronosequence (7800 years) in Northern Sweden. While total P varied little, the composition of the soil P pool changed particularly among young sites, where also the largest shift in the composition of the plant community and of soil microorganisms was observed. Very old soils, such as found Africa, are thought to strongly adsorb P, limiting plant productivity. I used NMR to study the effect of scattered agroforestry trees on P speciation in two semi-arid tropical woodlands with different soil mineralogy (Burkina Faso). While the total P concentration was low, under the tree canopies higher amounts of P and higher diversity of P-species were found, presumably reflecting higher microbial activity.