Quantifying temporal and spatial variation of soil phosphorus (P) input, output and balance across Chinese arable land is necessary for better P management strategies. Here, we address this challenge using a soil P budget to analyse the soil P balance in arable land across the whole of China, for the period 1980–2012. Results indicated that the total P input to soil increased from 22.5 kg P/ha in 1980 to 79.1 kg P/ha in 2012. However, the total P output from soil only increased from 17.9 kg P/ha in 1980 to 36.9 kg P/ha in 2012. Therefore, the average net soil P surplus in China increased from 4.6 kg P/ha in 1980 to 42.1 kg P/ha in 2012. Our research found great variation in soil P balances across different regions. Soil P balance varied between regions with the order of southeast (SE) > north central (NC) and the middle and lower reaches of Yangtze River (MLYR) > southwest (SW) > northwest (NW) > northeast (NE). Phosphorus that has accumulated in agricultural soil across China could theoretically meet crop P demands for approximately 4.8–12.0 yrs, depending on the bioavailability of P stored in soils. Increasing the return rates of manure and straw could substantially reduce the demand for fertilizer-P. This paper represents a basis for more targeted, regionally informed P fertilizer recommendations in Chinese soils.
- long-term soil P accumulation
- P use efficiency
- Soil P balance
- sustainable P management