Response of belowground communities to short-term phosphorus addition in a phosphorus-limited woodland

Uffe N. Nielsen, Samantha Prior, Brendan Delroy, Jennifer K M Walker, David S. Ellsworth, Jeff R. Powell*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


Aims Soil biota regulate essential ecosystem processes but our understanding of how soil fertility constrains biotic interactions remains limited. We investigated belowground responses to short-term phosphorus (P) fertilization in a P-limited woodland.

Methods Ten Eucalyptus tereticornis were randomly selected and five fertilized with superphosphate equivalent to 50 kg P ha(-1) over 6 months. We estimated aboveground (understory) and belowground plant biomass, and collected samples for soil chemistry, arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) root colonization, soil fungal abundance and community composition, and extraction of nematodes and microarthropods.

Results P-fertilization increased root biomass, abundance of non-AM fungi, and abundances of Collembola, and altered fungal community structure, but was associated with a decrease in predatory nematodes. Structural equation modelling indicated that effects on Collembola and fungal abundances were mediated by direct effects of the fertilizer treatment and/or indirect effects via root biomass responses. However, fungal community compositional changes and reductions in predatory nematodes resulted primarily due to fertilization-mediated changes in soil pH.

Conclusion Our study shows that understory plant communities and soil biota are P-limited at the study site but that some biotic groups appear to be more sensitive to changes in soil pH than to increases in P availability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)321-331
Number of pages11
JournalPlant and Soil
Issue number1 - 2
Early online date12 Mar 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2015

Bibliographical note

Dr Kaushal Tewari and Sarah Beck provided technical assistance with sample processing. This work was supported by the Australian Reseach Council Discovery Grants scheme (DP110105102 and DP130102501). EucFACE is supported by the Australian Commonwealth government in collaboration with the University of Western Sydney. This is part of a TERN Super-site facility. EucFACE was built as an initiative of the Australian government as part of the Nation-building Economic
Stimulus Package.


  • Cumberland plain woodland
  • fungi
  • microarthropods
  • nematoda
  • phosphorus fertilization
  • pH
  • arbuscular-mycorrhizal fungi
  • soil food-web
  • terrestrial ecosystems
  • forest soil
  • land-use
  • nitrogen
  • biodiversity
  • fertilization
  • grasslands
  • limitation


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