Organic acid exudation by plant roots is thought to promote phosphate (P) solubilisation and bioavailability in soils with poorly available nutrients. Here we describe a new combined experimental (microdialysis) and modelling approach to quantify citrate-enhanced P desorption and its importance for root P uptake.
To mimic the rhizosphere, microdialysis probes were placed in soil and perfused with citrate solutions (0.1, 1.0 and 10 mM) and the amount of P recovered from soil used to quantify rhizosphere P availability. Parameters in a mathematical model describing probe P uptake, citrate exudation, P movement and citrate-enhanced desorption were fit to the experimental data. These parameters were used in a model of a root which exuded citrate and absorbed P. The importance of soil citrate-P mobilisation for root P uptake was then quantified using this model.
A plant needs to exude citrate at a rate of 0.73 μmol cm−1 of root h−1 to see a significant increase in P absorption. Microdialysis probes with citrate in the perfusate were shown to absorb similar quantities of P to an exuding root.
A single root exuding citrate at a typical rate (4.3 × 10−5 μmol m−1 of root h−1) did not contribute significantly to P uptake. Microdialysis probes show promise for measuring rhizosphere processes when calibration experiments and mathematical modelling are used to decouple microdialysis and rhizosphere mechanisms.