Date of this Version
Ecological Applications, 22(2), 2012, pp. 705–721
As urban environments dominate the landscape, we need to examine how limiting nutrients such as phosphorus (P) cycle in these novel ecosystems. Sustainable management of P resources is necessary to ensure global food security and to minimize freshwater pollution. We used a spatially explicit budget to quantify the pools and fluxes of P in the Greater Phoenix Area in Arizona, USA, using the boundaries of the Central Arizona– Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research site. Inputs were dominated by direct imports of food and fertilizer for local agriculture, while most outputs were small, including water, crops, and material destined for recycling. Internally, fluxes were dominated by transfers of food and feed from local agriculture and the recycling of human and animal excretion. Spatial correction of P dynamics across the city showed that human density and associated infrastructure, especially asphalt, dominated the distribution of P pools across the landscape. Phosphorus fluxes were dominated by agricultural production, with agricultural soils accumulating P. Human features (infrastructure, technology, and waste management decisions) and biophysical characteristics (soil properties, water fluxes, and storage) mediated P dynamics in Phoenix. P cycling was most notably affected by water management practices that conserve and recycle water, preventing the loss of waterborne P from the ecosystem. P is not intentionally managed, and as a result, changes in land use and demographics, particularly increased urbanization and declining agriculture, may lead to increased losses of P from this system. We suggest that city managers should minimize cross-boundary fluxes of P to the city. Reduced P fluxes may be accomplished through more efficient recycling of waste, therefore decreasing dependence on external nonrenewable P resources and minimizing aquatic pollution. Our spatial approach and consideration of both pools and fluxes across a heterogeneous urban ecosystem increases the utility of nutrient budgets for city managers. Our budget explicitly links processes that affect P cycling across space with the management of other resources (e.g., water). A holistic management strategy that deliberately couples the management of P and other resources should be a priority for cities in achieving urban sustainability.