The depletion of calcium in forest ecosystems of the northeastern USA is thought to be a consequence of acidic deposition and to be at present restricting the recovery of forest and aquatic systems now that acidic deposition itself is declining. This depletion of calcium has been inferred from studies showing that sources of calcium in forest ecosystems-namely, atmospheric deposition and mineral weathering of silicate rocks such as plagioclase, a calcium-sodium silicate-do not match calcium outputs observed in forest streams. It is therefore thought that calcium is being lost from exchangeable and organically bound calcium in forest soils. Here we investigate the sources of calcium in the Hubbard Brook experimental forest, through analysis of calcium and strontium abundances and strontium isotope ratios within various soil, vegetation and hydrological pools. We show that the dissolution of apatite (calcium phosphate) represents a source of calcium that is comparable in size to known inputs from atmospheric sources and silicate weathering. Moreover, apatite-derived calcium was utilized largely by ectomycorrhizal tree species, suggesting that mycorrhizae may weather apatite and absorb the released ions directly, without the ions entering the exchangeable soil pool. Therefore, it seems that apatite weathering can compensate for some of the calcium lost from base-poor ecosystems, and should be considered when estimating soil acidification impacts and calcium cycling.
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