Phosphorus-31 nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy transect study of poultry operations on the Delmarva peninsula
Nonpoint source phosphorus (P) pollution into the Chesapeake Bay watershed from poultry operations contributes to the algal blooms, hypoxia, anoxia, and fish kill events that occur there most years. A major source of soluble, bioavailable P species is poultry litter, which is used as a crop fertilizer on fields adjacent to the tributaries of the Bay. A potentially significant source of orthophosphate in the litter is the heavily phosphorylated compound myo-inositol hexakisphosphate (phytate), which is indigestible by poultry and thus becomes a major component of their excreta. Phytate evaluation in environmental samples is expensive; hence, its impact is not captured in standard farmer-friendly eutrophication potential guides, like Delaware's Phosphorus Site Index. In this transect study of two poultry operations on the Delmarva Peninsula, we measured the incidence of all P compounds using solution 31P nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy and extracts, relating them to relevant geochemical properties. The contribution of phytate to the overall pool of P declined from around 50% in manures to between 2 and 13% in down-gradient soils and sediments, corresponding to a rise in the relative proportion of orthophosphate (increasing from 39% to 65–88%). The results show that the large pool of phytate P spread onto croplands during standard operating practice at poultry farms on the Delmarva Peninsula does not appear to accumulate; rather, phytate decreases in down-gradient locations, most likely due to transport off-site and/or through in situ biological activity.