Revealed: Ocean’s Hidden Fertilizer

Phosphorus is one of the most common substances on Earth. An essential nutrient for every living organism, humans require approximately 700 milligrams per day. But we’re rarely concerned about consuming enough because it is in most of the foods we eat.

Despite its ubiquity and living organisms’ dependence on it, little is surprisingly known about how it moves, or cycles, through the ocean environment.

Scientists studying the marine phosphorous cycle have known that phosphorus was absorbed by plants and animals and released back to seawater in the form of phosphate as these plants and animals decay and die.

But a growing body of research hints that microbes in the ocean transform phosphorus in ways that remain a mystery.

A new study by a research team from the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) and Columbia University reveals for the first time a marine phosphorus cycle that is much more complex than previously thought.

The work also highlights the important but previously hidden role that some microbial communities play in using and breaking down forms of this essential element.

Much like phosphorus-based fertilizers boost the growth of plants on land, phosphorus in the ocean promotes the production of microbes and tiny marine plants called phytoplankton, which compose the base of the marine food chain.

It’s been unclear exactly how phytoplankton are using the most abundant forms of phosphorus found in the ocean–phosphates and a strange form of phosphorus called phosphonates.

Source : Independent

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