Use of 13C- and phosphate 18O-labeled substrate for studying phosphorus and carbon cycling in soils: a proof of concept

Avner Gross*, Alon Angert

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Scopus citations


Rationale: Stable isotope tracers are commonly used to track the transformations of organic carbon (C) and nitrogen (N) in soils but they have not been used to follow coupled cycles of phosphorus (P) and C because P has only one stable isotope. Methods: A novel dually labeled substrate, composed of a 13C-labeled glucose backbone attached to a phosphate group with known δ18OP value, was used to follow the fate of C and P derived from the same compound. The substrate was amended to soils from two natural oak forests, differing in their P levels, and the δ13C values of respired CO2 and the δ18OP values of soil bioavailable P were measured. Results: The δ18OP values of the phosphate accumulated in the soil deviated from the expected value of P that is released from phosphomonoesters by enzymatic reactions (3.7 ‰) and were driven towards isotopic equilibrium with soil water (21.1 ‰), a process which is produced as part of microbial metabolism. This suggests that the substrate's P passed through the microbial biomass before accumulating in the soil, reflecting the rapid microbial turnover rate of the added P. A higher fraction of the substrate-C was respired in the higher P soil by the end of the incubation (20.3 % in comparison with 9.1 % in the lower P soil), indicating stronger energy limitation in the higher P soils. The higher 13C glucose respiration in the higher P soil also triggered a stronger priming effect than in the lower P soil. Conclusions: Our approach demonstrates that 13C- and P-18O-dually labeled tracers provide invaluable data on the fate of organic P and C in soils. We encourage biogeochemists and soil scientists to develop similar tracers of this kind.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)969-977
Number of pages9
JournalRapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry
Issue number11
StatePublished - 15 Jun 2017

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.


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