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This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 29 No. 1, p. 97-105
    Received: Aug 23, 1999

    * Corresponding author(s): simardr@em.agr.ca
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Potential for Preferential Pathways of Phosphorus Transport

  1. R. R. Simard *,
  2. S. Beauchemin and
  3. P. M. Haygarth
  1. Institute of Grassland and Environmental Research (IGER), North Wyke, Okehampton, Devon, EX20 2SB, UK.



This paper briefly reviews the existing literature and uses evidence from three studies to demonstrate the occurrence of preferential pathways of P transport through soil. Studies conducted in the St. Lawrence lowlands, Canada, indicated that particulate P (PP-i.e., >0.45 µm) the main fraction of total P (TP) in tile-drainage water generated by storm events after periods of low rainfall. In the remainder of the year, the concentration of TP and P forms were related to soil texture, primary tillage intensity and frequency, and showed wide seasonal variations. For a study conducted in the UK under grassland, higher TP concentrations were found in near-surface runoff (0–30 cm) compared with concentrations measured in drainflow. Water passing through the artificial drainage system had a higher proportion of PP (43%) than water passing close to (<30 cm) or over the soil surface (31%). Installation of tile drainage in a poorly draining soil reduces P transfer by improving the infiltration capacity, thereby reducing overland flow volume and allowing P to be retained/sorbed by the soil matrix. Because of the absence of tillage, permanent grasslands accumulate P near the surface. We hypothesize that, if the soil P store is coincident with preferential flow pathways (either artificial mole drainage channels or natural macropores), permanent grassland will be vulnerable to transfer large amounts of P through subsurface pathways. Phosphorus transfer through preferential flow pathways may be particularly important after storm events that rapidly follow periods of drought and/or surface P inputs as inorganic fertilizer or manure.

Contribution No. 631 of the Soils and Crops Research Centre.

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