Improve nutrient-use efficiency in agro-ecosystems

Plant Nutrition

One of the challenges of this century is to sustainably meet the needs of the growing world population. Increased food production goes along with an increased nutrient demand for crops. Severe problems arise when too little or too much nutrients are added to agro-ecosystems. Using the most recent tools from plant and soil sciences, the Group of Plant Nutrition unravels mechanisms controlling nutrient cycles in the soil plant system, in order to contribute to the development of agricultural systems that maximize nutrient use efficiency and limit nutrient losses to the environment.

We study abiotic and biotic processes determining the availability of nutrients for plants. Besides classical methods, we use in our research radioactive and stable isotopes, mycorrhizal cultures, molecular markers and enzymatic methods. Research projects address nutrient-limited and nutrient-rich situations in the temperate and tropical zone and consider interactions between different nutrients. In nutrient-poor systems we elaborate biological approaches to alleviate phosphorus and nitrogen limitations while in nutrient-rich systems the focus is on optimizing nutrient recycling to crops.

Recent Publications

  • Food Systems Approach to Improve Diet and Nutritional Outcomes: Integration of Three Studies Conducted in Rural Communities in Sri Lanka
    Joshepkumar, T; Madumali, C; Mohotti, J; Frossard, E; Nanayakkara, J; Silva, KDRR; Jayasinghe, JMUK
  • Understanding fertilizer adoption and effectiveness on maize in Zambia
    Burke, WJ; Frossard, E; Kabwe, S; Jayne, TS
    FOOD POLICY, 86 10.1016/j.foodpol.2019.05.004 JUL 2019
  • Phosphorus Allocation to Leaves of Beech Saplings Reacts to Soil Phosphorus Availability
    Meller, S; Frossard, E; Luster, J
    FRONTIERS IN PLANT SCIENCE, 10 10.3389/fpls.2019.00744 JUN 6 2019
  • The structural composition of soil phosphomonoesters as determined by solution P-31 NMR spectroscopy and transverse relaxation (T-2) experiments
    McLaren, TI; Verel, R; Frossard, E
    GEODERMA, 345 31-37; 10.1016/j.geoderma.2019.03.015 JUL 1 2019
  • Predicting Phosphate Release from Sewage Sludge Ash Using an Ion Sink Assay
    Nanzer, S; Oberson, A; Eggenberger, U; Frossard, E
    JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENTAL QUALITY, 48 (3):746-754; 10.2134/jeq2018.11.0394 MAY-JUN 2019
  • Residual phosphorus availability after long-term soil application of organic waste
    Lemming, C; Oberson, A; Magid, J; Bruun, S; Scheutz, C; Frossard, E; Jensen, LS
    AGRICULTURE ECOSYSTEMS & ENVIRONMENT, 270 65-75; 10.1016/j.agee.2018.10.009 FEB 1 2019
  • Zinc Absorption From Agronomically Biofortified Wheat Is Similar to Post-Harvest Fortified Wheat and Is a Substantial Source of Bioavailable Zinc in Humans
    Signorell, C; Zimmermann, MB; Cakmak, I; Wegmuller, R; Zeder, C; Hurrell, R; Aciksoz, SB; Boy, E; Tay, F; Frossard, E; Moretti, D
    JOURNAL OF NUTRITION, 149 (5):840-846; 10.1093/jn/nxy328 MAY 2019
  • The Fate of Zn in Agricultural Soils: A Stable Isotope Approach to Anthropogenic Impact, Soil Formation, and Soil-Plant Cycling
    Imseng, M; Wiggenhauser, M; Muller, M; Keller, A; Frossard, E; Wilcke, W; Bigalke, M
    ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, 53 (8):4140-4149; 10.1021/acs.est.8b03675 APR 16 2019
  • Long-term organic matter application reduces cadmium but not zinc concentrations in wheat
    Gruter, R; Costerousse, B; Mayer, J; Mader, P; Thonar, C; Frossard, E; Schulin, R; Tandy, S
    SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 669 608-620; 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.03.112 JUN 15 2019
  • Boron and zinc deficiencies and toxicities and their interactions with other nutrients in soybean roots, leaves, and seeds
    Pawlowski, ML; Helfenstein, J; Frossard, E; Hartman, GL
    JOURNAL OF PLANT NUTRITION, 42 (6):634-649; 10.1080/01904167.2019.1567782 APR 3 2019
  • Pseudomonas protegens CHA0 does not increase phosphorus uptake from P-33 labeled synthetic hydroxyapatite by wheat grown on calcareous soil
    Meyer, G; Maurhofer, M; Frossard, E; Gamper, HA; Mader, P; Meszaros, E; Schonholzer-Mauclaire, L; Symanczik, S; Oberson, A
    SOIL BIOLOGY & BIOCHEMISTRY, 131 217-228; 10.1016/j.soilbio.2019.01.015 APR 2019
  • Towards an understanding of the Cd isotope fractionation during transfer from the soil to the cereal grain
    Imseng, M; Wiggenhauser, M; Keller, A; Muller, M; Rehkamper, M; Murphy, K; Kreissig, K; Frossard, E; Wilcke, W; Bigalke, M
    ENVIRONMENTAL POLLUTION, 244 834-844; 10.1016/j.envpol.2018.09.149 JAN 2019
  • Using isotopes to trace freshly applied cadmium through mineral phosphorus fertilization in soil-fertilizer-plant systems
    Wiggenhauser, M; Bigalke, M; Imseng, M; Keller, A; Rehkamper, M; Wilcke, W; Frossard, E
    SCIENCE OF THE TOTAL ENVIRONMENT, 648 779-786; 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2018.08.127 JAN 15 2019
  • Biological processes dominate phosphorus dynamics under low phosphorus availability in organic horizons of temperate forest soils
    Pistocchi, C; Meszaros, E; Tamburini, F; Frossard, E; Bunemann, EK
    SOIL BIOLOGY & BIOCHEMISTRY, 126 64-75; 10.1016/j.soilbio.2018.08.013 NOV 2018
  • Experimental disconnection from common mycorrhizal networks has little effect on competitive interactions among common temperate grassland species
    Milkereit, J; Frossard, E; Stoll, P; Wagg, C; Niklaus, PA
    JOURNAL OF ECOLOGY, 106 (6):2332-2343; 10.1111/1365-2745.12984 NOV 2018
  • A method to analyse the isotopic composition of oxygen associated with organic phosphorus in soil and plant material
    Tamburini, F; Pistocchi, C; Helfenstein, J; Frossard, E
    EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF SOIL SCIENCE, 69 (5):816-826; 10.1111/ejss.12693 SEP 2018
  • Combining spectroscopic and isotopic techniques gives a dynamic view of phosphorus cycling in soil
    Helfenstein, J; Tamburini, F; von Sperber, C; Massey, MS; Pistocchi, C; Chadwick, OA; Vitousek, PM; Kretzschmar, R; Frossard, E
    NATURE COMMUNICATIONS, 9 10.1038/s41467-018-05731-2 AUG 13 2018
  • Evaluation of MALDI-TOF mass spectrometry for the competitiveness analysis of selected indigenous cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp.) Bradyrhizobium strains from Kenya
    Ndungu, Samuel Mathu; Messmer, Monika M.; Ziegler, Dominik; Thuita, Moses; Vanlauwe, Bernard; Frossard, Emmanuel; Thonar, Cecile
    APPLIED MICROBIOLOGY AND BIOTECHNOLOGY, 102 (12):5265-5278; 10.1007/s00253-018-9005-6 JUN 2018
  • Cowpea (Vigna unguiculata L. Walp) hosts several widespread bradyrhizobial root nodule symbionts across contrasting agro-ecological production areas in Kenya
    Ndungu SM, Messmer MM, Ziegler D, Gamper HA, Mészáros É, Thuita M, Vanlauwe B, Frossard E, Thonar C.
    Agriculture, Ecosystems & Environment, FEB 2018
  • Water soluble phosphate fertilizers for crops grown in calcareous soils - an outdated paradigm for recycled phosphorus fertilizers?
    Meyer, G.; Frossard, E.; Mader, P.; Nanzer, S.; Randall, D. G.; Udert, K. M.; Oberson, A.
    PLANT AND SOIL, 424 (1-2):367-388; SI 10.1007/s11104-017-3545-x MAR 2018
  • The contribution of Stylosanthes guianensis to the nitrogen cycle in a low input legume-rice rotation under conservation agriculture
    Zemek, O.; Frossard, E.; Scopel, E.; Oberson, A.
    PLANT AND SOIL, 425 (1-2):553-576; 10.1007/s11104-018-3602-0 APR 2018
  • Fate of Cd in Agricultural Soils: A Stable Isotope Approach to Anthropogenic Impact, Soil Formation, and Soil-Plant Cycling
    Imseng, M; Wiggenhauser, M; Keller, A; Muller, M; Rehkamper, M; Murphy, K; Kreissig, K; Frossard, E; Wilcke, W; Bigalke, M
    ENVIRONMENTAL SCIENCE & TECHNOLOGY, 52 (4):1919-1928; FEB 20 2018
  • Soil solution phosphorus turnover: derivation, interpretation, and insights from a global compilation of isotope exchange kinetic studies 
    Helfenstein, Julian; Jegminat, Jannes; McLaren, Timothy I.; et al. 
    BIOGEOSCIENCES, 15 (1): 105-114 JAN 8 2018
  • Phosphorus cycling within soil aggregate fractions of a highly weathered tropical soil: A conceptual model 
    Garland, Gina; Bunemann, E. K.; Oberson, A.; et al. 
    SOIL BIOLOGY & BIOCHEMISTRY, 116: 91-98 JAN 2018
  • Handling the phosphorus paradox in agriculture and natural ecosystems: Scarcity, necessity, and burden of P 
    Leinweber, Peter; Bathmann, Ulrich; Buczko, Uwe; et al. 
    AMBIO, 47: 3-19 JAN 2018
  • Identification of Heterotrophic Zinc Mobilization Processes among Bacterial Strains Isolated from Wheat Rhizosphere (Triticum aestivum L.) 
    Costerousse, Benjamin; Schonholzer-Mauclaire, Laurie; Frossard, Emmanuel; et al. 

Prof. Dr. Emmanuel Frossard
ETH Zurich
Institute of Agricultural Sciences
8315 Lindau

Tel: +41 (0)52 354 91 40

Research topics

  • Microbial functions in nutrient dynamics, with emphasis on nutrient mineralization, immobilization and the role of enzymes
  • Functional diversity of myccorhizal fungi
  • Use of 18O to assess P fluxes and processes at ecosystem level
  • Role of abiotic processes in phosphorus and heavy metals cycling
  • Phosphorus and nitrogen (re-)cycling in agro-ecosystems: Use of nutrients contained in animal manure, plant residues and recycling fertilizers
  • Nutrient cycles and eco-efficiency: integrated nutrient management, conservation agriculture, organic farming, nutrient cycles and biodiversity in agro-ecosystems



  • Crop sciences
  • Soil microbiology
  • Soil chemistry
  • Plant and microbial ecology
  • Plant physiology
  • Molecular biology