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Assessing the threat that anthropogenic calcium depletion poses to forest health and productivity

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Schaberg, Paul G.; Miller, Eric K.; Eagar, Christopher

Year Published

2010

Publication

In: Pye, John M.; Rauscher, H. Michael; Sands, Yasmeen; Lee, Danny C.; Beatty, Jerome S., tech. eds. 2010. Advances in threat assessment and their application to forest and rangeland management. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-802. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest and Southern Research Stations: 37-58

Abstract

Growing evidence from around the globe indicates that anthropogenic factors including pollution-induced acidification, associated aluminum mobility, and nitrogen saturation are disrupting natural nutrient cycles and depleting base cations from forest ecosystems. Although cation depletion can have varied and interacting influences on ecosystem function, it is the loss of calcium (Ca) that may be particularly limiting to tree health and productivity. Calcium plays unique roles in plant cell function, including environmental signal transduction processes that allow cells to sense and respond to stress. Considering this, Ca depletion could impair plant response systems and predispose trees to reduced growth and increased decline. Controlled experiments with red spruce (Picea rubens Sarg.) and other tree species provide mechanistic support for the hypothesis that Ca deficiencies predispose trees to decline. Importantly, several examples of species declines in the field also suggest that injury is often greater when Ca depletion and stress exposure co-occur.

Connections between contemporary species declines and Ca depletion highlight the need for monitoring forests for indicators of change, including Ca loss. Direct measures of soil and plant Ca concentrations provide one traditional means of assessing the Ca status within forests. Although these measures are often valuable, substantial variation among soils and species and a lack of comparative historical data provide obstacles to the use of these measures for evaluating Ca depletion across the landscape. An alternative approach for assessing Ca depletion is to model critical loads and exceedances of pollutant additions that lead to net losses in Ca pools and likely disrupt ecosystem Ca cycles within forests. For example, spatial associations of Ca cycling and loss to broad-scale data on forest health and productivity were recently conducted for portions of the Northeastern United States. A steady-state ecosystem process model was coupled to extensive spatial databases and used to generate maps identifying forest areas likely to experience Ca depletion. Sustainable Ca supplies in forest ecosystems are functions of forest type, timber extraction intensity, prior land use, atmospheric deposition rates, and site factors including climate, hydrology, soil mineral type and weathering rates. Considering the unique vulnerability of Ca to leaching loss and its vital role in supporting tree stress response systems, the model focused on how changes in Ca pools may influence forest health conditions. Initial comparisons within New England indicated that the model-based Ca deficiency metric was a good predictor of field-based indicators of forest health and productivity. Models such as this show promise for evaluating the threat Ca depletion poses to forest health and productivity in an integrated and spatially explicit manner in North America. This approach has already proven valuable to policymakers and managers in Europe when evaluating alternative pollution reduction or mitigation options.

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Citation

Schaberg, Paul G.; Miller, Eric K.; Eagar, Christopher. 2010. Assessing the threat that anthropogenic calcium depletion poses to forest health and productivity. In: Pye, John M.; Rauscher, H. Michael; Sands, Yasmeen; Lee, Danny C.; Beatty, Jerome S., tech. eds. 2010. Advances in threat assessment and their application to forest and rangeland management. Gen. Tech. Rep. PNW-GTR-802. Portland, OR: U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Pacific Northwest and Southern Research Stations: 37-58.

Last updated on: November 22, 2011