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Research article2022Peer reviewedOpen access

Sorption and desorption of organic matter in soils as affected by phosphate

Spohn, Marie; Diakova, Katerina; Aburto, Felipe; Doetterl, Sebastian; Borovec, Jakub


The contribution of different adsorption processes to soil organic matter (SOM) stabilization and the consequences of the intensification of land use on the adsorption of SOM are not yet fully understood. Therefore, this study aimed to explore the adsorption of dissolved organic carbon (DOC) in soils as well as desorption of organic carbon (OC) caused by phosphate addition. We conducted desorption and sorption experiments with DOC, phosphate (Na2HPO4), and chloride (KCl) in topsoil and subsoil samples from a Ferralsol, an Andosol, and a Podzol. Furthermore, we quantified the size of DOC by size-exclusion chromatography.We found that phosphate addition caused a strong increase in the DOC concentration in all soils. The DOC concentration was elevated by up to a factor of 4.5 compared to a control (water only) within five minutes after phosphate addition and kept increasing further with time, particularly in the Ferralsol. After 10 days, the DOC concentrations in the P addition treatment were between 5.5 and 18.0 times higher than in the control treatment. In contrast, chloride addition did not lead to increased DOC concentrations compared to the control (water only). Phosphate addition led mostly to desorption of organic matter of medium molecular size (10-100 and 100-1000 kDa) in the Ferralsol and the Andosol and of large molecular size (>1000 kDa) in the Podzol. In contrast, potassium chloride addition shifted the size distribution of DOC in the soil solution towards small compounds (<10 kDa), likely because KCl addition affected the aggregation of DOC compounds, in contrast to Na2HPO4 addition. Furthermore, phosphate addition also decreased subsequent sorption of DOC in the Ferralsol and the Andosol by a factor of up to 2.9 and 2.1, respectively.Our results have far-reaching implications because they show that phosphate addition can lead to desorption, and thus to destabilization of SOM, particularly in Ferralsols, and can also prevent further sorption of organic matter in soils. Our study provides a mechanistic explanation of why phosphate addition can decrease soil organic carbon sequestration and stabilization. This mechanism should be considered in the analysis of land-use and tillage effects on SOM sequestration in the future. Furthermore, our study indicates that also medium and large molecular size organic matter is stabilized through adsorption in soils.


Soil organic matter stabilization; Sorption; Ligand-exchange surface complexation; Phosphorus addition; Soil organic matter loss; Phosphorus fertilization

Published in

2022, Volume: 405, article number: 115377
Publisher: ELSEVIER

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG15 Life on land

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Soil Science

    Publication identifier


    Permanent link to this page (URI)