Natural and anthropogenic drivers of calcium depletion in a northern forest during the last millennium

Bérangère A. Leys, Gene E. Likens, Chris E. Johnson, Joseph M. Craine, Brice Lacroix, Kendra K. McLauchlan

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


The pace and degree of nutrient limitation are among the most critical uncertainties in predicting terrestrial ecosystem responses to global change. In the northeastern United States, forest growth has recently declined along with decreased soil calcium (Ca) availability, suggesting that acid rain has depleted soil Ca to the point where it may be a limiting nutrient. However, it is unknown whether the past 60 y of changes in Ca availability are strictly anthropogenic or partly a natural consequence of long-term ecosystem development. Here, we report a high-resolution millennial-scale record of Ca and 16 other elements from the sediments of Mirror Lake, a 15-ha lake in the White Mountains of New Hampshire surrounded by northern hardwood forest. We found that sedimentary Ca concentrations had been declining steadily for 900 y before regional Euro-American settlement. This Ca decline was not a result of serial episodic disturbances but instead the gradual weathering of soils and soil Ca availability. As Ca availability was declining, nitrogen availability concurrently was increasing. These data indicate that nutrient availability on base-poor, parent materials is sensitive to acidifying processes on millennial timescales. Forest harvesting and acid rain in the postsettlement period mobilized significant amounts of Ca from watershed soils, but these effects were exacerbated by the long-term pattern. Shifting nutrient limitation can potentially occur within 10,000 y of ecosystem development, which alters our assessments of the speed and trajectory of nutrient limitation in forests, and could require reformulation of global models of forest productivity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6934-6938
Number of pages5
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number25
StatePublished - Jun 21 2016


  • Acidification
  • Calcium
  • Hardwood forest
  • Natural depletion
  • Nutrients

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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