, Volume 15, Issue 5, pp 748–760 | Cite as

Soil Calcium and Forest Birds: Indirect Links Between Nutrient Availability and Community Composition

  • Sarah E. Pabian
  • Margaret C. Brittingham


Calcium is an important nutrient that can be limiting in many forest ecosystems, where acid deposition and other natural and anthropogenic activities have resulted in significant soil calcium depletion. Calcium’s critical role in physiological and structural processes and its limited mobility and storage in many organisms, make it a potential driver of ecosystem structure and function, but little is known about how changes in soil calcium affect community composition, especially in terrestrial vertebrates. The aim of this study was to establish relationships between the abundances of forest songbird species and soil calcium and to elucidate linking mechanisms by establishing simultaneous relationships with trophic and habitat variables. We measured soil calcium and pH, calcium-rich invertebrate abundances, vegetation, and songbird abundances at 14 interior forest sites across central Pennsylvania representing a range of soil calcium levels. Bird community composition varied with soil calcium and pH, with 10 bird species having the highest abundances in forests with high calcium soils, and five species having the highest abundances with low calcium soils. Bird species associated with low-calcium soils were associated with high densities of mountain laurel (Kalmia latifolia), an acid-loving shrub, whereas bird species associated with high-calcium soils were associated with high densities of saplings and high basal area of acid-sensitive tree species. Homogenization of soil conditions through land-use patterns and soil calcium depletion pose the risk of reducing the beta diversity of bird species across forest areas because community composition varied with soil calcium.


community birds forest calcium soils acidic deposition millipedes snails 



The authors thank W. Tzilkowski and E. Smithwick for their advice, and D. Behrend, S. Chiavacci, C. Coverstone, D. Grear, J. Kauffman, T. Keller, P. Manning, L. Sisitki, G. Stokke, E. Stuber, T. Weidman, and T. Wertz for assistance in the field. Funding was provided by the Pennsylvania’s Wild Resource Conservation Program, and the Pennsylvania State University Agricultural Experiment Station. The use of field sites for this study was permitted by the PA Department of Conservation and Natural Resources and the PA Game Commission.

Supplementary material

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Supplementary material 1 (DOC 364 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Forest ResourcesPennsylvania State UniversityUniversity ParkUSA
  2. 2.Department of BiologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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