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Microbial Phosphorus Mobilization Strategies Across a Natural Nutrient Limitation Gradient and Evidence for Linkage With Iron Solubilization Traits


Microorganisms have evolved several mechanisms to mobilize and mineralize occluded and insoluble phosphorus (P), thereby promoting plant growth in terrestrial ecosystems. However, the linkages between microbial P-solubilization traits and the preponderance of insoluble P in natural ecosystems are not well known. We tested the P solubilization traits of hundreds of culturable bacteria representative of the rhizosphere from a natural gradient where P concentration and bioavailability decline as soil becomes progressively more weathered. Aluminum, iron phosphate and organic P (phytate) were expected to dominate in more weathered soils. A defined cultivation medium with these chemical forms of P was used for isolation. A combination of soil chemical, spectroscopic analyses and 16S rRNA gene sequencing were used to understand the in situ ability for solubilization of these predominant forms of P. Locations with more occluded and organic P harbored the greatest abundance of P-mobilizing microorganisms, especially Burkholderiaceae (Caballeronia and Paraburkholderia spp.). Nearly all bacteria utilized aluminum phosphate, however fewer could subsist on iron phosphate (FePO4) or phytate. Microorganisms isolated from phytic acid were also most effective at solubilizing FePO4, suggesting that phytate solubilization may be linked to the ability to solubilize Fe. Significantly, we observed Fe to be co-located with P in organic patches in soil. Siderophore addition in lab experiments reinstated phytase mediated P-solubilization from Fe-phytate complexes. Taken together, these results indicate that metal-organic-P complex formation may limit enzymatic P solubilization from phytate in soil. Additionally, the linked traits of phytase and siderophore production were mostly restricted to specific clades within the Burkholderiaceae. We propose that Fe complexation of organic P (e.g., phytate) represents a major constraint on P turnover and availability in acidic soils, as only a limited subset of bacteria appear to possess the traits required to access this persistent pool of soil P.

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