Depletion of Ca from forest soils due to acidic deposition has had potentially pervasive effects on forest communities, but these impacts remain largely unknown. Because snails, salamanders, and plants play essential roles in the Ca cycle of northern hardwood forests, we hypothesized that their community diversity, abundance, and structure would vary with differences in biotic Ca availability. To test this hypothesis, we sampled 12 upland hardwood forests representing a soil Ca gradient in the Adirondack Mountains, New York (USA), where chronic deposition has resulted in acidified soils but where areas of well-buffered soils remain Ca rich due to parent materials. Along the gradient of increasing soil [Ca2+], we observed increasing trends in snail community richness and abundance, live biomass of redback salamanders (Plethodon cinereus (Green, 1818)), and canopy tree basal area. Salamander communities were dominated by mountain dusky salamanders (Desmognathus ochrophaeus Cope, 1859) at Ca-poor sites and changed continuously along the Ca gradient to become dominated by redback salamanders at the Ca-rich sites. Several known calciphilic species of snails and plants were found only at the highest-Ca sites. Our results indicated that Ca availability, which is shaped by geology and acidic deposition inputs, influences northern hardwood forest ecosystems at multiple trophic levels, although the underlying mechanisms require further study.
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Changes in faunal and vegetation communities along a soil calcium gradient in northern hardwood forests