Skip to main content

Characterizing phosphorus forms in cropland soils with solution 31P-NMR: past studies and future research needs


Understanding the forms and dynamics of soil phosphorus (P) is essential to maintain agricultural productivity while minimizing environmental risks. Since it was first used on soil extracts in 1980, 31P-nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (P-NMR) has emerged as the leading technique to characterize extractable soil organic P forms. However, it is still underutilized in agriculture; of the more than 200 soil P-NMR papers published to date, only 44 have been conducted in non-pasture soils used for the production of annual or perennial crops, and only nine of those have linked identified P forms to agronomic parameters such as yield. This paper reviews these prior studies, suggesting gaps in research with respect to cropping systems and geographical regions. In particular, there have been few recent P-NMR studies that have fully identified P forms in African soils, and few studies of permanent crops such as orchards and vineyards. There is a need to link future P-NMR studies of cropping systems to agronomic parameters, and combine P-NMR with other techniques to fully capture P dynamics in cropping systems.

Spectrum adapted from Cade-Menun et al. [33].

Agricultural field, soil and spectrum from Canada.


Phosphorus (P) is an essential element for all organisms, and is needed for energy transfer through adenosine triphosphate (ATP), cell membrane structure (phospholipids and lipoteichoic acids), cell reproduction [deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA)] and gene expression [ribonucleic acid (RNA)]. Phosphorus is classified as a macronutrient for plant growth, and is a limiting nutrient in many soils [1, 2]. Unlike nitrogen (N), P cannot be fixed from atmospheric sources; it can only be obtained by uptake from soil via plant roots as orthophosphate (HPO4 2− or H2PO4 depending on soil pH) [3].

In soil, P originates from the weathering of apatites, which are primary P minerals containing calcium (Ca). The orthophosphate released from weathering will move to the soil solution, where it can precipitate as secondary minerals that are generally associated with Ca, magnesium (Mg), iron (Fe) and aluminum (Al); sorb to soil particles; or be taken up by plants and microbes and converted to organic P forms (immobilization) [3]. Organic P forms can be returned to the soil, where they can sorb to soil particles or be mineralized back to orthophosphate for plant uptake from the soil solution.

Organic P can comprise 35–65% of soil P [4]. Soil organic P forms are grouped into broad compound classes, each of which can contain a number of P forms [4]. Orthophosphate esters are subdivided based on the number of ester linkages. Orthophosphate monoesters have one ester linkage per phosphate, and include sugar phosphates (e.g. glucose 6-phosphate), mononucleotides (e.g. adenosine monophosphate) and inositol phosphates. Inositol phosphates identified in soils include the plant P storage compound phytate (myo-inositol hexaphosphate, myo-IHP) and several of its stereoisomers (scyllo-, d-chiro- and neo-IHP) [57]. Orthophosphate diesters have two esters per phosphate, and include phospholipids, lipoteichoic acids, RNA and DNA. Phosphonates have a carbon (C)–P bond, and include natural compounds such as ciliatine (2-aminoethyl phosphonic acid) and agricultural chemicals such as glyphosate [N-(phosphonomethyl) glycine]. Orthophosphate anhydrides are linear chains of orthophosphate, linked with energy-rich phosphoanhydride bonds. These can include inorganic and organic compounds, all of which are generally included with organic P due to similarities in dynamics and analysis. Organic orthophosphate anhydrides include ATP; inorganic compounds include polyphosphates, which are chains of two (pyrophosphate) or more orthophosphates. More details on all of these compounds can be found in Condron et al. [4].

The P that is available for plant uptake from the soil solution can be deficient in many regions, requiring fertilization for optimal crop growth [2, 8]. Animal manure (AM) and other biochemically stabilized organic wastes have been applied as fertilizers for centuries; chemical inorganic P fertilizers (CF) were introduced in the late 1800s, and their use has significantly expanded globally since the 1950s [8]. The widespread application of P fertilizers, both AM and CF, has led to concerns with respect to water quality and eutrophication due to excess P from soil that is transferred to water through erosion and runoff [8, 9]. Additionally, CF is produced from rock phosphate, and the long-term sustainability of this non-renewable resource is uncertain [1, 2, 8]. In light of these concerns, there is a need to improve P use efficiency in agriculture, to minimize the need for P fertilizer application.

Many methods have been proposed to improve P use efficiency in crop production. These include targeted fertilization [8], plant breeding for traits such as rooting form, and production of phosphatase and organic acids [1, 2], and enhanced microbial P cycling in the rhizosphere [1, 2]. Key to all of these is an understanding of soil P dynamics, especially those of organic P forms [9, 10]. Historically, organic P forms have received less attention than inorganic P forms, in part because they are more difficult to study [4]. As such, a detailed understanding of the organic P forms contributed to soils from plants, microbes and organic amendments, and the pathways by which these are recycled to plant-available P forms, is lacking relative to that for inorganic P. Advanced spectroscopic tools are required to characterize P forms, the most widely used of which is solution 31P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (P-NMR). Since its first use in soil science in 1980 by Newman and Tate [11], more than 200 papers have been published that have used P-NMR to characterize soil P forms. However, relatively few of these have studied cropping systems (defined here as non-pasture systems used for annual or perennial crops), and even fewer of these have linked P forms to management practices or to agronomic indicators such as yield or P balance (the difference between fertilizer inputs and crop removal). This has limited the usefulness of P-NMR studies to guide agricultural practices to improve P use efficiency, including the role of organic P forms in soil fertility. In order to connect P cycling in soil to sustainable management in agriculture, the knowledge gained from past studies needs to be evaluated and used to direct future research. As such, the objectives of this manuscript are (1) to review prior studies using P-NMR to investigate soil P forms and dynamics in field studies of non-pasture cropping systems; and (2) to identify knowledge gaps and suggest directions for future research.


Solution 31P-NMR spectroscopy

It is not my intention to review the principles of NMR spectroscopy in this manuscript, because that information can be obtained elsewhere [e.g. 12, 13]. It is also not my intention to give extensive information related to the use of P-NMR in soil and environmental science, as that has been covered in several other review papers [1417]. However, a brief overview is needed to help understand the strengths and weaknesses of the studies discussed below.

Solid-state P-NMR is rarely used for soil studies; instead, solution (liquid-state) P-NMR is preferred for the improved spectral resolution [14, 15]. Soil total P concentrations are generally in the mg kg−1 range; thus, concentrating soil extracts increases the P concentration per NMR sample, significantly improving the NMR response. In the early years of soil P-NMR work, a number of different extractants were used, with little standardization among research groups [14, 15], making it difficult to compare results. In 1996, Cade-Menun and Preston [18] introduced the use of 0.25 M sodium hydroxide (NaOH) + 0.05 M disodium ethylenediaminetetraacetic acid (Na2EDTA) as an extractant, based on a method to measure total soil organic P [19]. Once extracted, solutions are lyophilized to concentrate P. This is now the most widely used extraction procedure for soil and other environmental samples [17]. However, as discussed in detail elsewhere [17], other dissimilarities exist among groups with respect to sample extraction (e.g. soil:extractant ratios), dissolution of lyophilized extracts for NMR analysis, NMR acquisition parameters, and methods to identify and quantify specific P forms. In some early studies, research groups concentrated their extracts with dialysis [e.g. 20, 21]. While this improved the resolution of other peaks by removing most of the orthophosphate, it may have also removed other P forms, and definitely altered the relative proportions of all peaks. Even small changes in preparation methods or parameters can affect the final NMR results, so caution is needed when comparing results from different research groups that use different protocols and parameters.

The early soil P-NMR work produced spectra that were often very broad, with little resolution of individual peaks. As such, P forms were identified as compound classes only (e.g. orthophosphate, orthophosphate monoesters) [11, 2028]. There were few attempts to identify specific P forms, and the identification of some compounds such as choline phosphate [23] has since been shown to be incorrect [29]. Advances over time now allow the majority of peaks to be identified with spiking experiments and compound libraries, although it is still difficult to distinguish some specific forms such as mononucleotides [29]. Figure 1 shows spectra from several recent studies of P in cropping systems [3032]; more information about the samples can be found in the published studies. The P compounds of interest in soil science generally fall between 30 and −30 ppm, and include (from left to right, Fig. 1) phosphonates, from 30 to ~8 ppm; orthophosphate at ~6 ppm; orthophosphate monoesters, at ~7 to 6.1 ppm and ~5.9 to ~2.5 ppm; orthophosphate diesters from 2.5 to −3.9 ppm; pyrophosphate at about −4.2 ppm; and polyphosphates at −4 (end group) and from −5.3 to −30 ppm (mid-chain). More details of the orthophosphate monoester region are shown in Fig. 2, with spectra from published studies [32, 33], and unpublished data (B. Cade-Menun). The spectra are labeled in the manner used by the Cade-Menun research group. More information about the chemical shifts of these and other P compounds can be found in published compound libraries [29, 34].

Fig. 1

Example spectra from cropping systems from various locations. The rice and tea spectra are from Liu et al. [30], the corn soil, no till, fertilized with poultry litter, is from Georgia, USA [31], and the corn/soybean sample is from Quebec, Canada [32]. DNA deoxyribonucleic acid; Oth Di1, Oth Di 2 orthophosphate diesters other than DNA. Spectra were analyzed without proton decoupling and processed with 7 Hz line-broadening. The full spectra are scaled to the height of the orthophosphate peak; the insets were enlarged by different factors, to best show the indicated regions

Fig. 2

Example spectra from cropping systems from various locations, showing details of the orthophosphate monoester region. 1 barley/corn, no till, Prince Edward Island, Canada [33]; 2 corn, France; 3 corn/soybean, no till, Quebec, Canada [32]; 4 Rice, China. Samples 2 and 4 are unpublished spectra. Mono general orthophosphate monoester regions; α-G α-glycerophosphate; βG β-glycerophosphate; C d-chiro inositol hexaphosphate (IHP); g1P glucose 1-phosphate; g6P glucose 6-phosphate; M myo-IHP; N neo-IHP; n nucleotides; S scyllo-IHP. Spectra were analyzed without proton decoupling, processed with 2 Hz line-broadening, and are scaled to the height of the tallest non-orthophosphate peak shown in all spectra

One of the biggest improvements in recent years involves the identification of peaks for degradation compounds. These are compounds that were orthophosphate diesters in the soil, but which have degraded to orthophosphate monoesters during extraction and analysis. It is generally now agreed that α- and β-glycerophosphates are degradation products from phospholipids, while most mononucleotides (e.g. adenosine monophosphate) originate from RNA [29, 3437]. There has long been an interest in quantifying total orthophosphate monoesters and total orthophosphate diesters in soil; diesters are thought to be more labile, while many monoesters are more recalcitrant due to strong sorption to mineral surfaces [4]. As such, the ratio of orthophosphate monoesters to orthophosphate diesters (M:D) has been used to predict organic P cycling in soils [4, 23]. In addition, activities of the soil enzymes acid monoesterase, alkaline monoesterase and diesterase are commonly measured [4], and linked back to total orthophosphate monoester and diester concentrations in models [e.g., 38]. However, if corrections are not made for degradation products, the M:D and models are of questionable value for predicting mineralization of organic P forms [37].

Unless compounds labeled with other P isotopes (32P, 33P) have been used in experiments, all P in soils is 31P. As such, P-NMR is a quantitative method, allowing the concentrations of P forms to be determined. This is can be done by measuring the P concentration in the soil extract if the entire extract is used for the NMR experiment, or by measuring the P in the prepared NMR sample after analysis if only a portion of the lyophilized extract is used. In either case, this is done by digestion and colorimetric analysis or by analysis with inductively coupled plasma optical emission spectroscopy (ICP-OES); the percentage of each peak, determined from the spectrum by integration and/or deconvolution, is then multiplied by the P concentration [14, 15, 17]. Concentrations can also be determined by integration against a peak from a standard with a known P concentration spiked into the sample [17].

Solution 31P-NMR studies of cropland soils

The P-NMR literature for pasture soils was recently reviewed [39]; as such, this section of the manuscript will review studies that have used P-NMR to characterize P in non-pasture soils used to grow annual or perennial crops. Most commercial crop production relies heavily on fertilization with CF or AM to optimize yields, so improvements in P use efficiencies could have the greatest benefits in these systems.

Studies using P-NMR to characterize P in cropping systems are listed in Table 1. These are grouped by country and listed by date of publication. The soil classifications listed are from the original manuscripts; no attempt was made to convert them to a single classification system. Other information given includes the crops, P fertilization history (kg P ha−1 year−1), and the treatments the study was designed to investigate. The degree of peak identification is ranked as B, M or D; B is broad compound classes only (e.g. orthophosphate monoesters); M is moderate, with some more specific identifications, usually of myo-IHP; and D indicates spectra with detailed peak identifications, generally confirmed with spiking experiments. Studies that have identified degradation peaks and ideally corrected the calculation of total orthophosphate monoesters for diester degradation compounds are indicated with a C. If agronomic data such as soil test P, yield or P balances were included in the study this is indicated in the final column. Blanks in any column for any paper indicate that the information was not included in the original publication. Some studies included other land uses, such as forests, in addition to cropping systems but the information in Table 1 is for soils from cropland only. Please note that I excluded studies of soils that were identified as “cropland” or “arable” if no specific details about crop rotations were given [e.g. 4046], as well as incubation studies using soils from crop field [46, 47].

Table 1 Studies in North America, Europe and South America using 31P-NMR to investigate P in soil under cropping systems, sorted by location

In Africa, there have been two studies from Madagascar and one each from Tanzania, Ethiopia and West Cameroon [24, 2628, 48]. Four of these studies were published in 2003 or earlier, used NaOH as an extractant [24, 2628], and identified only broad compound classes. One study used dialysis on sample extracts [26], which likely distorted the relative peak areas. One study from Madagascar [48] used NaOH–EDTA and identified peaks in detail, including degradation compounds. In Asia, there was one study from Northern Thailand [23] and eight studies from various provinces in China [30, 38, 4954]. One study used NaOH [25], the remainder used NaOH–EDTA [30, 38, 4954], and none used dialysis. Although the majority of studies were published in 2012 or later, only two included detailed peak identifications and corrections for degradation [30, 54]. Four studies from Australia were included [35, 5557], two of which sampled from the same fields under the same crops [35, 56]. Three studies identified peaks in detail, with correction for degradation [35, 56, 57].

In Europe, two studies from Germany and Denmark used the same research plots [20, 21], but both used dialysis and identified only broad peaks. There was a more recent study from Germany [58], one each from Finland, Sweden and Switzerland [5961]; one specifically from England [62] and one from the United Kingdom in general [10]. The study from Israel is included here too [63]. Three of these studies identified only broad compound classes [10, 58, 59], one identified the majority of peaks [60] and three identified peaks in detail [6163]. In North America, there was one study from Mexico [22], five from Canada [23, 32, 33, 64, 65] and five from the USA [31, 6669]. The early studies identified only broad peaks [22, 23, 64, 66]. These used NaOH as the extractant, and one study used dialysis [66]. All remaining studies from North America used NaOH–EDTA as the extractant. The two studies from 2009 identified some of the peaks [67, 68], while the remainder identified peaks in detail. In South America, there was one study from Chile [70] and five from Brazil [7175]. The majority of studies from South America used NaOH–EDTA as an extractant, although several studies added additional steps such as pre-extraction with resin and a final treatment with Chelex [7173]. Only one study from South America identified peaks in detail and corrected for degradation [75].

The crops that have been studied include food crops for humans [e.g. wheat (Triticum aestivum L.), rice (Oryza sativa L.)] and livestock [e.g., corn (Zea mays L.), forage oats (Avena strigose Screb.)], and cash crops [e.g. tea (Camellia sinensis L.), coffee (Coffea arabica L.)]. In North America, Europe and Australia, P-NMR has been used most frequently to study annual crops, generally rotations based on wheat or corn. In Africa and Asia, more studies have investigated soils in vegetable and rice production. There have been very few studies of permanent plants, with three studies investigating tea [27, 28, 30], one study of coffee plantations [72], and one in an apple orchard [74].

Cropping systems have often been included in land use studies, and compared to forests [20, 21, 26, 28, 52, 53] or grasslands [10, 23, 75]. With respect to management practices, fertilization was the most studied practice, and included CF and AM, as well as alternate fertilizers such as compost, sewage sludge and waste water [48, 61, 63]. The next most studied management practice is tillage, with studies in China [38, 50] Australia [55], the USA [31], Canada [32, 33], Chile [70] and Brazil [71].

For improved P use efficiency in agriculture, studies need to not only identify P forms, but also relate both concentrations and changes in P forms to agronomic indicators such as yield or P use efficiency. Of the 44 studies listed in Table 1, many do not even include measures of soil test P (STP), and only nine include information on yield or P balances [48, 54, 55, 5961, 65, 70, 75]. Of these nine, only six identified peaks in enough detail (M or D) to identify trends in P forms other than orthophosphate [48, 54, 60, 61, 65, 75]. I will focus on these studies in more detail, and they are summarized in Table 2.

Table 2 Summary of P-NMR results from selected studies

The studies that included detailed peak identifications and yield information were studies of rice in Madagascar [48], greenhouse-grown tomatoes in China [54], wheat-based crop rotations in Sweden [60] and Switzerland [61], continuous wheat monoculture in Canada [65], and summer rotations [including corn, soybean (Glycine max (L.) Merrill), common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris L.)] with a grazed winter wheat cover crop in Brazil [75]. One had only CF [65], one had CF plus grazing of winter cover crops [75], two were fertilized with CF and AM [54, 60], one had fertilization with CF, AM, and compost [48], and one studied fertilization with CF, AM, compost and sewage sludge [61]. Information about soil pH, soil total P and soil test P concentrations is included in Table 2. These ranged considerably for each study depending on the location and treatments. All studies extracted soils for P-NMR with NaOH–EDTA. The recoveries of total P in the NaOH–EDTA extracts ranged from 36 to 96% (Table 2), again varying with location and treatment. The P-NMR results are reported as percentages of extracted P in Table 2 to simplify comparisons among studies. All of the soils in the studies from Madagascar, China and Brazil received some P fertilizers, and all contained high percentages of orthophosphate. The study from Canada included samples from plots that were fertilized from 1967 to 2010, and plots that were fertilized from 1967 to 1995, with no P from 1995 to 2010. The studies from Sweden and Switzerland included plots receiving no P for 30 or 60 years, respectively, plus fertilization at various rates with different fertilizers. The percentages of orthophosphate in the studies from Canada, Sweden and Switzerland varied with P fertilization, and were always lowest in soils receiving no P for the length of the study, as were the soil test P concentrations. The percentages of pyrophosphate and DNA were low across all treatments in all studies. The percentage of myo-IHP varied with P treatment, and was highest with the lowest fertilization, while scyllo-IHP was present in most samples from all studies, also increasing in plots with lowest fertilizer P inputs. The M:D ratio, after correcting for diester degradation, was over 1 for all but the sites with the lowest fertilization rates in Sweden. The ratio was particularly high in the Switzerland samples because no DNA was detected. The P balance was generally positive for all studies except at sites receiving no P fertilizer. There were generally no differences among fertilizer types (CF, AM, etc.) within studies; the main differences resulted from differences in P rates applied to soils from each fertilizer. The use of non-CF fertilizers did not build up organic P; organic P was higher in plots not receiving fertilizer, mainly from the drawdown of inorganic P. In Madagascar, there were no differences in yields with treatments. In Canada, fertilizer cessation had also not affected yields, although orthophosphate and STP had decreased. In Switzerland, yields varied among treatments, but P was not the only limited nutrient. For all studies with a 0-P treatment [60, 61, 65], orthophosphate decreased in those plots, but organic P species remained the same or increased. This suggests that crops are drawing orthophosphate down faster than it is being replenished by mineralizing organic P forms. And the relatively low percentages of DNA and P degradation forms from phospholipids and RNA suggest that the P extracted for NMR in these studies is from other sources than microbes [4].

Information such as that which is shown in Table 2 needs to be obtained from a wider range of studies, with respect to soils, crops and fertilizers. This in turn could be used to enhance P use efficiency, with further testing. For example, does orthophosphate decrease and organic P increase because organic P forms are more tightly sorbed and less available for hydrolysis? If so, then crop breeding or soil microbial inoculation could be used to enhance the production of organic acids or phosphatases to mineralize organic P forms. However, without the detailed information about P forms and their dynamics that can be obtained from the use of advanced studies such as P-NMR, it will be more difficult to develop appropriate strategies to improve P use efficiency.

Future research needs

Solution P-NMR spectroscopy is a powerful technique, producing information not available from other methods. However, the reliability of quantitative data depends on the correct set up of acquisition parameters, e.g. with delay times long enough for full relaxation [17]. This is true for all future P-NMR studies, not just those of cropland soils. Extraction and analytical procedures should also be standardized among research groups, to enhance comparisons of data sets, and all peaks should be identified and confirmed with spiking experiments [29]. Calculations of total orthophosphate monoesters and diesters, and the M:D ratio, should be corrected for diester degradation products [37]. And field replicates need to be analyzed by P-NMR as much as possible, rather than compositing samples, to allow statistical analyses of P-NMR results along with other field data.

For studies of agricultural soils, especially those comparing management practices, published papers need to include as much agronomic data as possible. At the very minimum, some measure of STP needs to be included, as well as yield data and P balances. Ideally, P-NMR studies of management practices should also link changes in P forms to agronomic data related to those practices, which has been poorly done in the past. Although tillage has been shown to alter the distribution of soil P forms in several studies from around the world [3133, 37, 50, 55, 70, 71], these changes in P forms were not linked to yield in any of these studies, making it difficult to determine if changing P forms makes any difference agronomically. Phosphorus NMR studies of agriculture that do not link the identified P forms to agronomic values become esoteric technical studies rather than practical management studies, and are more limited in their wider use.

The majority of studies to date are static studies, capturing the point in time when samples were collected. Sampling needs to be coupled to active changes in crops during the growing seasons such as seed germination (for annual plants) and flowering, and P-NMR measurements should be paired with other techniques such as enzyme assays or microbial community analysis to relate P forms to P dynamics. Long-term studies of cropping systems are available in many countries [e.g., 6062, 65, 71, 75]; these should be coupled with shorter greenhouse studies to capture P dynamics at different time scales [e.g. 73]. And if orthophosphate is indeed the P form most affected by management, then there is a need to pair P-NMR studies with complementary techniques that better characterize orthophosphate forms, such as sequential fractionations and P-XANES [e.g., 30, 65, 69].

There is a need to understand the inputs into soil from various plant materials (roots, shoots, etc.), and changes in these inputs from changing soil P status [7678]. And while the P forms in manures have been fairly well-characterized [16] and their dynamics in soil generally well-studied, there is a need for more information on alternate fertilizers, particularly recycled wastes [e.g., 60, 7981] and their behavior in soil [61, 80]. The range of cropping systems investigated with P-NMR has been limited to date, as have the countries in which it has been used to characterize soil P. There is a particular need to characterize P forms and their dynamics in tropical soils, which sorb P more strongly, and where there are greater concerns with respect to food security [28].


Since its first use in soil science in 1980, P-NMR has been a valuable tool to characterize P forms. In agriculture, there is recognition of the need to improve P use efficiency, arising from concerns about eutrophication from soil P loss and the long-term sustainability of rock phosphate stores from which chemical fertilizers are made. The prior publications reviewed here show that P-NMR can be a valuable tool in studies to improve agricultural P use efficiency, when conducted properly to maximize quantitative information. However, P-NMR studies to date have been limited with respect to cropping systems and geographic locations. Therefore, further research using P-NMR is needed globally on a wider range of crops to fully understand the dynamics in soil of this valuable crop nutrient.


  1. 1.

    Richardson AE, Lynch JP, Ryan PR, Delhaize E, Smith FA, Smith SE, Harvey PR, Ryan MH, Veneklaas EJ, Lambers H, Oberson A, Culvenor RA, Simpson RJ. Plant and microbial strategies to improve the phosphorus efficiency of agriculture. Plant Soil. 2011;349:121–56.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  2. 2.

    Faucon MP, Houben D, Reynoird JP, Mercadal-Dulaurent AM, Armand R, Lambers H. Advances and perspectives to improve the phosphorus availability in cropping systems for agroecological phosphorus management. Adv Agron. 2015;134:51–79.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  3. 3.

    Pierzynski GM, McDowell RW, Sims JT. Chemistry, cycling and potential movement of inorganic phosphorus in soils. In: Sims JT, Sharpley AN, editors. Phosphorus, agriculture and the environment. Monograph no 46. Madison: Soil Science Society of America; 2005. p. 53–86.

    Google Scholar 

  4. 4.

    Condron LM, Turner BL, Cade-Menun BJ. Chemistry and dynamics of soil organic phosphorus. In: Sims JT, Sharpley AN, editors. Phosphorus, agriculture and the environment. Monograph no 46. Madison: Soil Science Society of America; 2005. p. 87–121.

    Google Scholar 

  5. 5.

    Turner BL, Papházy MJ, Haygarth PM, McKelvie ID. Inositol phosphates in the environment. Phil Trans R Soc Lond. 2002;357:449–69.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  6. 6.

    Turner BL, Cheesman AW, Godage HY, Riley AM, Potter BVL. Determination of neo- and d-chiro-inositol hexakisphosphate in soils by solution 31P NMR spectroscopy. Environ Sci Technol. 2012;46:4994–5002.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  PubMed Central  Google Scholar 

  7. 7.

    Giles CD, Cade-Menun BJ. Phytate in animal manure and soils: Abundance, cycling and bioavailability. Chapter 9. In: He Z, Zhang H, editors. Applied manure and nutrient chemistry for sustainable agriculture and environment. New York: Springer; 2014. p. 163–90.

    Google Scholar 

  8. 8.

    Withers PJA, Sylvester-Bradley R, Jones DL, Healey JR, Talboys PJ. Feed the crop not the soil: rethinking phosphorus management in the food chain. Environ Sci Technol. 2014;48:6523–30.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  9. 9.

    Dodd RJ, Sharpley AN. Recognizing the role of soil organic phosphorus in soil fertility and water quality. Resour Conserv Recycl. 2015;105B:282–93.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  10. 10.

    Stutter MI, Shand CA, George TS, Blackwell MSA, Dixon L, Bol R, MacKay RL, Richardson AE, Condron LM, Haygarth PM. Land use and soil factors affecting accumulation of phosphorus species in temperate soils. Geoderma. 2015;257–258:29–39.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  11. 11.

    Newman RH, Tate KR. Soil phosphorus characterization by 31P nuclear magnetic resonance. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 1980;11:835–42.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  12. 12.

    Keeler J, Understanding NMR. Spectroscopy. 2nd ed. Hoboken: Wiley; 2011.

    Google Scholar 

  13. 13.

    Claridge TDW. High-resolution NMR techniques in organic chemistry. 3rd ed. Amsterdam: Elsevier; 2016.

    Google Scholar 

  14. 14.

    Cade-Menun BJ. Using phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy to characterize phosphorus in environmental samples. In: Turner BL, Frossard E, Baldwin D, editors. Organic phosphorus in the environment. Wallingford: CABI Publishing; 2005. p. 21–44.

    Google Scholar 

  15. 15.

    Cade-Menun BJ. Characterizing phosphorus in environmental and agricultural samples by 31P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Talanta. 2005;66:359–71.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  16. 16.

    Cade-Menun BJ. Characterizing phosphorus in animal waste with solution 31P NMR spectroscopy. In: He Z, editor. Environmental chemistry of animal manure. New York: Nova Science Publishers, Inc; 2011. p. 275–99.

    Google Scholar 

  17. 17.

    Cade-Menun BJ, Liu CW. Solution 31P-NMR spectroscopy of soils from 2005 to 2013: a review of sample preparation and experimental parameters. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2014;78:19–37.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  18. 18.

    Cade-Menun BJ, Preston CM. A comparison of soil extraction procedures for 31P NMR spectroscopy. Soil Sci. 1996;161:770–85.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  19. 19.

    Bowman RA, Moir JO. Basic EDTA as an extractant for soil organic phosphorus. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 1993;57:1516–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  20. 20.

    Guggenberger G, Christensen BT, Rubæk G, Zech W. Land-use and fertilization effects on P forms in two European soils: resin extraction and 31P-NMR analysis. Eur J Soil Sci. 1996;47:605–14.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  21. 21.

    Rubæk GH, Guggenberger G, Zech W, Christensen BT. Organic phosphorus in soil size separates characterized by phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance and resin extraction. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 1999;63:1123–32.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  22. 22.

    Zech W, Alt HG, Zucker A, Kögel I. 31P-NMR-spectroscopic investigations of NaOH-extracts from soil with different land use in Yucatan (Mexico). Z Pflanzenernaehr Bodenk. 1985;148:626–32.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  23. 23.

    Condron LM, Frossard E, Tiessen H, Newman RH, Stewart JWB. Chemical nature of organic phosphorus in cultivated and uncultivated soils under different environmental conditions. J Soil Sci. 1990;41:41–50.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  24. 24.

    Zech W, Forster JC, Rakotoasimbola S, Fardeau JC. Caractérisation, par spectrométrie RMN du 31P, de constituants phosphatés extraites de sols de rizières malgaches. Cah. ORSTOM sér Pédol. 1990;XXV:243–51.

    Google Scholar 

  25. 25.

    Möller A, Kaiser K, Amelung W, Niamskul C, Udomsri S, Puthawong M, Haumaier L, Zech W. Forms of organic C and P extracted from tropical soils as assessed by liquid-state 13C-and 31P-NMR spectroscopy. Aust J Soil Res. 2000;38:1017–35.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  26. 26.

    Solomon D, Lehmann J. Loss of phosphorus from soil in semi-arid northern Tanzania as a result of cropping: evidence from sequential extraction and 31P-NMR spectroscopy. Eur J Soil Sci. 2000;51:699–708.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  27. 27.

    Solomon D, Lehmann J, Mamo T, Fritzsche F, Zech W. Phosphorus forms and dynamics as influenced by land use changes in the sub-humid Ethiopian highlands. Geoderma. 2002;105:21–48.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  28. 28.

    Tchiendoua Zech W. Chemical and spectral characterization of soil phosphorus under three land uses from an Andic Palehumult in West Cameroon. Agric Ecosyst Environ. 2003;100:193–200.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  29. 29.

    Cade-Menun BJ. Improved peak identification in 31P-NMR spectra of environmental samples with a standardized method and peak library. Geoderma. 2015;257–258:102–14.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  30. 30.

    Liu J, Yang J, Cade-Menun BJ, Liang X, Hu Y, Liu CW, Zhao Y, Li L, Shi J. Complementary phosphorus speciation in agricultural soils by sequential fractionation, solution 31P NMR, and P K-edge XANES spectroscopy. J Environ Qual. 2013;42:1763–70.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  31. 31.

    Cade-Menun BJ, He Z, Zhang H, Endale DM, Schomberg HH, Liu CW. Stratification of phosphorus forms from long-term conservation tillage and poultry litter application. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2015;79:504–16.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  32. 32.

    Abdi D, Cade-Menun BJ, Ziadi N, Parent LE. Long-term impact of tillage practices and P fertilization on soil P forms as determined by 31P-NMR spectroscopy. J Environ Qual. 2014;43:1431–41.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  33. 33.

    Cade-Menun BJ, Carter MR, James DC, Liu CW. Phosphorus forms and chemistry in the soil profile under long-term conservation tillage: a phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance study. J Environ Qual. 2010;39:1647–56.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  34. 34.

    Turner BL, Mahieu N, Condron LM. Phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance spectral assignments of phosphorus compounds in soil NaOH–EDTA extracts. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2003;67:497–510.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  35. 35.

    Doolette AL, Smernik RJ, Dougherty WJ. Spiking improved solution phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance identification of soil phosphorus compounds. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2009;73:919–27.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  36. 36.

    Smernik RJ, Doolette AL, Noack SR. Identification of RNA hydrolysis products in NaOH–EDTA extracts using 31P NMR spectroscopy. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 2015;46:2746–56.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  37. 37.

    Schneider KD, Cade-Menun BJ, Lynch DH, Voroney RP. Soil phosphorus forms from organic and conventional forage fields. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2016;80:328–40.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  38. 38.

    Wei K, Chen ZH, Zhu A, Zhang JB, Chen LJ. Application of 31P NMR spectroscopy in determining phosphatase activities and P composition in soil aggregates influenced by tillage and residue management practices. Soil Tillage Res. 2014;138:35–43.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  39. 39.

    Nash DM, Haygarth PM, Turner BL, Condron LM, McDowell RW, Richardson AE, Watkins M, Heaven MW. Using organic phosphorus to sustain pasture productivity: a perspective. Geoderma. 2014;221–222:11–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  40. 40.

    Turner BL, Cade-Menun BJ, Westermann DT. Organic phosphorus composition and potential bioavailability in semi-arid arable soils of the Western United States. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2003;67:1168–79.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  41. 41.

    Hansen JC, Cade-Menun BJ, Strawn DG. Phosphorus speciation in manure-amended alkaline soils. J Environ Qual. 2004;33:1521–7.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  42. 42.

    Briceño M, Escudey M, Galindo G, Borchardt D, Chang A. Comparison of extraction procedures used in determination of phosphorus species by 31P-NMR in Chilean volcanic soils. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 2006;37:1553–69.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  43. 43.

    Ohno T, Hiradate S, He Z. Phosphorus solubility of agricultural soils: a surface charge and phosphorus-31 NMR speciation study. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2011;75:1704–11.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  44. 44.

    Jarosch KA, Doolette AL, Smernik RJ, Tamburini F, Frossard E, Bünemann EK. Characterization of soil organic phosphorus in NaOH–EDTA extracts: a comparison of 31P NMR spectroscopy and enzyme addition assays. Soil Biol Biochem. 2015;91:298–309.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  45. 45.

    Moata MRS, Doolette AL, Smernik RJ, McNeil AM, McDonald LM. Organic phosphorus speciation in Australian Red Chromosols: stoichiometric control. Soil Res. 2016;54:11–9.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  46. 46.

    Leytem AB, Smith DR, Applegate TJ, Thacker PA. The influence of manure phytic acid on phosphorus solubility in calcareous soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2006;70:1629–38.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  47. 47.

    Doolette AL, Smernik RJ, Dougherty WJ. Rapid decomposition of phytate applied to a calcareous soil demonstrated by a solution 31P NMR study. Eur J Soil Sci. 2010;61:563–75.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  48. 48.

    Turner BL. Organic phosphorus in Madagascan rice soils. Geoderma. 2006;136:279–88.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  49. 49.

    Zhang A, Chen Z, Zhang G, Chen L, Wu Z. Soil phosphorus composition determined by 31P NMR spectroscopy and relative phosphatase activities influenced by land use. Eur J Soil Biol. 2012;52:73–7.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  50. 50.

    Wei K, Chen ZH, Zhang XP, Liang WJ, Chen LJ. Tillage effects on phosphorus composition and phosphatase activities in soil aggregates. Geoderma. 2014;217–218:37–44.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  51. 51.

    Zhang G, Chen Z, Zhang A, Chen L, Wu Z, Ma X. Phosphorus composition and phosphatase activities in soils affected by long-term application of pig manure and inorganic fertilizers. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 2014;45:1866–76.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  52. 52.

    Li M, Hu Z, Zhu X, Zhou G. Risk of phosphorus leaching from phosphorus-enriched soils in the Dianchi catchment, Southwestern China. Environ Sci Pollut Res. 2015;22:8460–70.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  53. 53.

    Zhou B, Vogt RD, Lu X, Yang X, Lu C, Mohr CW, Zhu L. Land use as an explanatory factor for potential phosphorus loss risk, assessed by P indices and their governing parameters. Environ Sci Processes Impacts. 2015;17:1443–54.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  54. 54.

    Yan Z, Chen S, Li J, Alva A, Chen Q. Manure and nitrogen application enhances soil phosphorus mobility in calcareous soils in greenhouses. J Environ Manage. 2016;181:26–35.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  55. 55.

    Bünemann EK, Marschner P, Smernik RJ, Conyers M, McNeill AM. Soil organic phosphorus and microbial community composition as affected by 26 years of different management strategies. Biol Fertil Soils. 2008;44:717–26.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  56. 56.

    Doolette AL, Smernik RJ, Dougherty WJ. A quantitative assessment of phosphorus forms in some Australian soils. Soil Res. 2011;49:152–65.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  57. 57.

    McLaren TI, Smernik RJ, Guppy CN, Bell MJ, Tighe MK. The organic composition of vertisols as determined by 31P NMR spectroscopy. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2014;78:1893–902.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  58. 58.

    Jiang X, Bol R, Willbold S, Vereecken H, Klumpp E. Speciation and distribution of P associated with Fe and Al oxides in aggregate-sized fraction of an arable soil. Biogeosciences. 2015;12:6443–52.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  59. 59.

    Soinne H, Uusitalo R, Sarvi M, Turtola E, Hartikainen H. Characterization of soil phosphorus in differently managed clay soil by chemical extraction methods and 31P NMR spectroscopy. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 2011;42:1995–2011.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  60. 60.

    Ahlgren J, Djodjic F, Börjesson G, Mattsson L. Identification and quantification of organic phosphorus forms in soils from fertility experiments. Soil Use Manage. 2013;29:24–55.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  61. 61.

    Annaheim KE, Doolette AL, Smernik RJ, Mayer J, Oberson A, Frossard E, Bünemann EK. Long-term addition of organic fertilizer has little effect on soil organic phosphorus as characterized by 31P NMR spectroscopy and enzyme additions. Geoderma. 2015;257–258:67–77.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  62. 62.

    Turner BL, Blackwell MSA. Isolating the influence of pH on the amounts and forms of soil organic phosphorus. Eur J Soil Sci. 2013;64:249–59.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  63. 63.

    Zohar I, Cade-Menun B, Paytan A, Shaviv A. Phosphorus transformations from reclaimed wastewater to irrigated soil: a 31P NMR study. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2014;78:1884–92.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  64. 64.

    Zhang TQ, Mackenzie AF, Sauriol F. Nature of soil organic phosphorus as affected by long-term fertilization under continuous corn (Zea mays L.): a 31P NMR study. Soil Sci. 1999;164:662–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  65. 65.

    Liu J, Hu YF, Yang JJ, Abdi D, Cade-Menun BJ. Investigation of soil legacy phosphorus transformations in long-term agricultural fields using sequential fractionation, P K-edge XANES and solution P-NMR spectroscopy. Environ Sci Technol. 2015;49:168–76.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  66. 66.

    Lehmann J, Lan Z, Hyland C, Sato S, Solomon D, Ketterings QM. Long-term dynamics of phosphorus forms and retention in manure-amended soils. Environ Sci Technol. 2005;39:6672–80.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  67. 67.

    Dou Z, Ramberg CF, Toth JD, Wang Y, Sharpley AN, Boyd SE, Chen CR, Williams D, Xu ZH. Phosphorus speciation and sorption-desorption characteristics in heavily manured soils. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2009;73:93–101.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  68. 68.

    Hill JE, Cade-Menun BJ. Phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy transect study of poultry operations on the Delmarva Peninsula. J Environ Qual. 2009;37:1–9.

    Google Scholar 

  69. 69.

    Weyers E, Strawn DG, Peak D, Moore AD, Baker LL, Cade-Menun B. Phosphorus speciation in calcareous soils following annual dairy manure amendments. Soil Sci Soc Am J. 2016;80:1531–42.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  70. 70.

    Redel YD, Escudey M, Alvear M, Conrad J, Borie F. Effects of tillage and crop rotation on chemical phosphorus forms and some related biological activities in a Chilean Ultisol. Soil Use Manage. 2011;27:221–8.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  71. 71.

    Rheinheimer DS, Anghinoni I, Flores AF. Organic and inorganic phosphorus as characterized by phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance in subtropical soils under management systems. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 2002;33:1853–71.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  72. 72.

    Cardosa IM, Van der Meer P, Oenema O, Janssen BH, Kuyper TW. Analysis of phosphorus by 31PNMR in Oxisols under agroforestry and conventional coffee systems in Brazil. Geoderma. 2003;112:51–70.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  73. 73.

    Gatiboni LC, dos Santos Rheinheimer D, Claro Flores AF, Anghinoni I, Kaminski J, de Lima MS. Phosphorus forms and availability assessed by 31P-NMR in successive cropped soil. Commun Soil Sci Plant Anal. 2005;36:2625–40.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  74. 74.

    De Oliveira CM, Erich MS, Gatiboni LC, Ohno T. Phosphorus fractions and organic matter chemistry under different land use on Humic Cambisols in Southern Brazil. Geoderma Reg. 2015;5:140–9.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  75. 75.

    Deiss L, de Moraes A, Dieckow J, Franzluebbers AJ, Gatiboni LC, Sassaki GI, Carvalho PCF. Soil phosphorus compounds in integrated crop-livestock systems of subtropical Brazil. Geoderma. 2016;4:88–96.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  76. 76.

    Noack SR, McLaughlin MJ, Smernik RJ, McBeath TM, Armstrong RD. Phosphorus speciation in manure wheat and canola plants as affected by phosphorus supply. Plant Soil. 2014;378:125–37.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  77. 77.

    Noack SR, Smernik RJ, McBeath TM, Armstrong RD, McLaughlin MJ. Assessing crop residue phosphorus speciation using chemical fractionation and solution 31P nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy. Talanta. 2014;126:122–9.

    CAS  Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

  78. 78.

    Doolette AL, Smernik RJ. Phosphorus speciation of dormant grapevine (Vitis vinifera L.) canes in the Barossa Valley, South Australia. Aust J Grape Wine Res. 2016;22:462–8.

    CAS  Article  Google Scholar 

  79. 79.

    Preston CM, Cade-Menun BJ, Sayer BG. Characterization of Canadian backyard composts: chemical and spectroscopic analyses. Compost Sci Util. 1998;6:53–66.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  80. 80.

    Smith MTE, Cade-Menun BJ, Tibbett M. Soil phosphorus dynamics from sewage sludge at different stages in a treatment stream. Biol Fertil Soils. 2006;42:186–97.

    Article  Google Scholar 

  81. 81.

    Stutter MI. The composition, leaching and sorption behavior of some alternative sources of phosphorus for soils. Ambio. 2015;44:S207–16.

    Article  PubMed  Google Scholar 

Download references


I acknowledge and thank the other participants at the Organic Phosphorus meeting and the 8th International Phosphorus Workshop, held in England and Germany, respectively, in September 2016. Discussions at these meetings revealed the need for this review topic, and influenced its focus. I gratefully acknowledge my many research collaborators on past and future projects.

Competing interests

The author declares that she has no competing interests.

Consent for publication

I am the submitting author and I accept the conditions of submission. As an employee of the Government of Canada, this work is covered by Crown Copyright.

Publisher’s Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Author information



Corresponding author

Correspondence to Barbara J. Cade-Menun.

Rights and permissions

Open Access This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Cade-Menun, B.J. Characterizing phosphorus forms in cropland soils with solution 31P-NMR: past studies and future research needs. Chem. Biol. Technol. Agric. 4, 19 (2017).

Download citation


  • Phosphorus
  • NMR
  • Soil
  • Cropland