Crops just can't do without phosphorus. Globally, more than 45 million tons of phosphorus fertilizer are expected to be used in 2019. But only a fraction of the added phosphorus will end up being available to crops.
In south Florida, for example, "it is thought that less than twenty percent of phosphorus applied as fertilizer is taken up by plants before it becomes unavailable," says Mary Tiedeman, a researcher at Florida International University.
The impact is two-fold: financial and environmental. "Fertilizer costs are significant for farmers in south Florida," says Tiedeman. "And phosphorus rock, the most widely used source of phosphorus fertilizer, is in low supply across the globe. It is thought that phosphorus rock resources will only be available for the next 50 to 200 years."
Tiedeman is exploring whether a rarely-studied process involving soil fungi could contribute to low phosphorus availability to plants in south Florida. This research could also help unravel how land use influences fungal communities in soil. It may also help us better understand vital soil-phosphorus dynamics.
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