Soil phosphine: the missing link in the global phosphorus cycle

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Soil phosphine: the missing link in the global phosphorus cycle

This PhD will offer training in an exciting area of soil science that addresses a fundamental question about the phosphorus cycle in soils: are transient gaseous phosphorus compounds indicative of significant phosphorus transformation pathways in soils, affecting their functioning and microbial communities? Phosphine has now been discovered in many environments including marshes, landfill sites, soil, animal manure and industrial waste and has been identified as a trace component of the earth's atmosphere, providing an exciting facet of phosphorus cycling in soils that can form the basis of some excellent training and investigation for a soil science PhD. Recent studies by Pasek et al. (2014, PNAS) and Kamat et al. (2013, Nature) have now shown that reduced forms of phosphorus, including gaseous phosphine, are closely linked to methanogenesis and more abundant in the environment than previously thought. This PhD training could help to revolutionise our understanding of phosphorus cycling in soils and develop our knowledge on the global (including atmospheric) phosphorus cycle. The driving objectives of this project will be to provide insight to this most fundamental of soil topics by: 1) Conducting inductive lab experiments to test the hypothesis that: the methods of biological phosphine formation are dominant over chemical mechanisms. 2) Quantifying the significance of phosphine gas production in a range of soils to determine whether or not it represents a significant transformation pathway. 3) Using data from 1 and 2 to revise our conceptual model of the soil phosphorus cycle, with an additional quantitative estimate of the role of phosphine formation in soils and the underlying controlling mechanisms.

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