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Nutrient acquisition from arable subsoils in temperate climates: A review


Abstract

In arable farming systems, the term ‘subsoil’ refers to the soil beneath the tilled or formerly tilled soil horizon whereas the latter one is denoted as ‘topsoil’. To date, most agronomic and plant nutrition studies have widely neglected subsoil processes involved in nutrient acquisition by crop roots. Based on our current knowledge it can be assumed that subsoil properties such as comparatively high bulk density, low air permeability, and poverty of organic matter, nutrients and microbial biomass are obviously adverse for nutrient acquisition, and sometimes subsoils provide as little as less than 10% of annual nutrient uptake in fertilised arable fields. Nevertheless, there is also strong evidence indicating that subsoil can contribute to more than two-thirds of the plant nutrition of N, P and K, especially when the topsoil is dry or nutrient-depleted. Based on the existing literature, nutrient acquisition from arable subsoils may be conceptualised into three major process components: (I) mobilisation from the subsoil, (II) translocation to the shoot and long-term accumulation in the Ap horizon and (III) re-allocation to the subsoil. The quantitative estimation of nutrient acquisition from the subsoil requires the linking of field experiments with mathematical modelling approaches on different spatial scales including Process Based Models for the field scale and Functional–Structural Plant Models for the plant scale. Possibilities to modify subsoil properties by means of agronomic management are limited, but ‘subsoiling’ – i.e. deep mechanical loosening – as well as the promotion of biopore formation are two potential strategies for increasing access to subsoil resources for crop roots in arable soils. The quantitative role of biopores in the nutrient acquisition from the subsoil is still unclear, and more research is needed to determine the bioaccessibility of nutrients in subsoil horizons.

Abstract

In arable farming systems, the term ‘subsoil’ refers to the soil beneath the tilled or formerly tilled soil horizon whereas the latter one is denoted as ‘topsoil’. To date, most agronomic and plant nutrition studies have widely neglected subsoil processes involved in nutrient acquisition by crop roots. Based on our current knowledge it can be assumed that subsoil properties such as comparatively high bulk density, low air permeability, and poverty of organic matter, nutrients and microbial biomass are obviously adverse for nutrient acquisition, and sometimes subsoils provide as little as less than 10% of annual nutrient uptake in fertilised arable fields. Nevertheless, there is also strong evidence indicating that subsoil can contribute to more than two-thirds of the plant nutrition of N, P and K, especially when the topsoil is dry or nutrient-depleted. Based on the existing literature, nutrient acquisition from arable subsoils may be conceptualised into three major process components: (I) mobilisation from the subsoil, (II) translocation to the shoot and long-term accumulation in the Ap horizon and (III) re-allocation to the subsoil. The quantitative estimation of nutrient acquisition from the subsoil requires the linking of field experiments with mathematical modelling approaches on different spatial scales including Process Based Models for the field scale and Functional–Structural Plant Models for the plant scale. Possibilities to modify subsoil properties by means of agronomic management are limited, but ‘subsoiling’ – i.e. deep mechanical loosening – as well as the promotion of biopore formation are two potential strategies for increasing access to subsoil resources for crop roots in arable soils. The quantitative role of biopores in the nutrient acquisition from the subsoil is still unclear, and more research is needed to determine the bioaccessibility of nutrients in subsoil horizons.

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Additional indexing

Item Type:Journal Article, refereed, further contribution
Communities & Collections:07 Faculty of Science > Institute of Geography
Dewey Decimal Classification:910 Geography & travel
Language:English
Date:2013
Deposited On:20 Nov 2012 14:07
Last Modified:16 Feb 2018 17:24
Publisher:Elsevier
ISSN:0038-0717
OA Status:Closed
Publisher DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.soilbio.2012.09.014

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