Long-term depletion of calcium and other nutrients in eastern US forests

Research paper by C. Anthony Federer, James W. Hornbeck, Louise M. Tritton, C. Wayne Martin, Robert S. Pierce, C. Tattersall Smith

Indexed on: 01 Sep '89Published on: 01 Sep '89Published in: Environmental Management


Both harvest removal and leaching losses can deplete nutrient capital in forests, but their combined long-term effects have not been assessed previously. We estimated changes in total soil and biomass N, Ca, K, Mg, and P over 120 years from published data for a spruce-fir site in Maine, two northern hardwood sites in New Hampshire, central hardwood sites in Connecticut and Tennessee, and a loblolly pine site in Tennessee. For N, atmospheric inputs counterbalance the outputs, and there is little long-term change on most sites. For K, Mg, and P, the total pool may decrease by 2%–10% in 120 years depending on site and harvest intensity. For Ca, net leaching loss is 4–16 kg/ha/yr in mature forests, and whole-tree harvest removes 200–1100 kg/ha. Such leaching loss and harvest removal could reduce total soil and biomass Ca by 20%–60% in only 120 years. We estimated unmeasured Ca inputs from rock breakdown, root-zone deepening, and dry deposition; these should not be expected to make up the Ca deficit. Acid precipitation may be the cause of current high leaching of Ca. Although Ca deficiency does not generally occur now in acid forest soils, it seems likely if anthropogenic leaching and intensive harvest removal continue.