Expanding the Paradigm: The influence of climate and lithology on soil phosphorus

Stewart G. Wilson, Randy A. Dahlgren, Andrew J. Margenot, Craig Rasmussen, Anthony T. O'Geen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The fate of phosphorus (P) during pedogenesis has been historically conceptualized (Walker-Syers model) with time as the primary controlling state factor. Herein, we demonstrate that both climate and lithology exert a strong and interacting influence on the fate of P by examining coupled bioclimatic and parent material effects on soil P fractions. Three transects were investigated spanning a 2150-m elevation gradient (MAT = 17 → 3 °C/MAP = 330 → 1400 mm) across three separate bedrock lithologies (lithosequence: granite, andesite and basalt) within the Sierra Nevada and southern Cascades of California. The elevation gradient entails four bioclimatic zones (bioclimosequence: blue oak, ponderosa pine, white fir and red fir). Soil P fractions were determined by sequential fractionation and interpreted in the context of associated soil characterization data. The bioclimatic sequences demonstrate a weathering gradient with maximum intensity at mid-elevation sites, and corresponding changes in Fe/Al-(hydr)oxide content and aluminosilicate crystallinity. Phosphorus content of parent material varied by an order of magnitude (mean; mg P kg−1): andesite (1500) > basalt (1000) > granite (131). Differences in P content of parent material influenced Pt in soils. However, amounts and proportions of P in fractions were influenced by subtle to significant interactions between climate and lithology, owing to differences in chemical weathering and the abundance and crystallinity of Fe/Al-(hydr)oxides and aluminosilicates. This interactive effect of pedogenesis on clay mineralogy led to differences in P fractions dependent upon lithology and bioclimatic zone. Labile inorganic P (Pi) was uniformly higher in soils derived from granite, despite granite having significantly lower P content, a result of lower Fe/Al-(hydr)oxide generation in granitic soils. With descending elevation and increased weathering intensity, HCl-Pi (primary mineral bound P-apatite) declined in basalt and andesite but remained unchanged in granite owing to its greater resistance to chemical weathering. As weathering intensity increased, occluded P increased in basalt, decreased in andesite and was unchanged in granite, contradicting the paradigm of progressive P occlusion with increased weathering. This incongruity for andesite results from a dominance of poorly crystalline materials (e.g., ferrihydrite, allophane/imogolite) at less weathered sites versus more crystalline minerals at more weathered sites. This study highlights several caveats to the paradigm that time (i.e., degree of weathering) is universally the dominant pedogenic control of P fractionation. We identify the importance of interactions between lithology and climate in regulating the amount and types of weathering products that in turn control P fractionation and ecosystem P availability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number115809
StatePublished - Sep 1 2022


  • Climate
  • Lithology
  • Pedogenesis
  • Phosphorus
  • Phosphorus biogeochemistry
  • State factors

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Soil Science


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