Due to the fact that the mechanism of acquisition of phosphorus (P) by roots, is mainly by interception, sufficient P uptake is only ensured by maximal root development ("exploitation"). Pot and field trials were conducted to determine the percentage exploitation of the soil volume by roots. The influence of P on root growth of Zea Mays was also studied. Previously, roots were described in terms of root density (cm cm-2, cm cm-3, gram cm-2 and gram cm-3). In this study roots are described in terms of exploitation which combines length, mass and the rhizosphere. The Gompertz function was used to model exploitation by roots as influenced by P application. P along with nitrogen and potassium, had a highly significant (P < 0.001) effect on root growth in the pot experiments. The root systems' function changed after 14 days from nutrient acquisition to shoot supportive. P had no significant effect on root growth in the field trial. Growth was governed by soil moisture, as dryer positions exhibited higher growth. The high P plot had much less root growth in the subsoil than the low P plot. Gompertz functions revealed subtle differences between different treatments. During the first two weeks (when most P uptake occur) roots exploited at the most 1 % of the top soil volume. This implies that any soil analysis (Bray-1 value), should be divided by ≈ 100 to render the "exploitable" P. When considering the total P uptake of a maize crop (5 kg P ton-I), this means that the crop acquires only ≈ 6% of its P from the "plant available" pool (that is represented by the Bray-1 value). This suggests that roots are indeed able to extract the P from "plant unavailable" pools. Therefore, the term "plant available" is misleading and not descriptive concerning P uptake, and its use should be discontinued.
Dissertation (MSc (Soil Science))--University of Pretoria, 2006.