(Host) Researchers at the University of Vermont believe that acid rain is doing more damage to the forests than they thought. This summer, a team of plant physiologists found that acid rain is stripping calcium, which is a vital nutrient, from a variety of trees. Originally, acid rain was thought to harm red spruce trees. But the study shows that balsam fir, white pine and eastern hemlock are also affected.
The study was done by Donald DeHayes and Gary Hawley at UVM and Paul Schaberg of the U.S. Forest Service.
Hawley says that acid in clouds and rainwater permeates the plant cells, and strips the calcium from the cell’s membrane. Hawley says the result is a forest ecosystem with a weakened immune system:
(Hawley) “This calcium deficiency, or less calcium in the membrane, compromises the immune system of the plants, and therefore makes the plants more susceptible to environmental change – whether it be drought, insect attack, temperature swings.”
(Host) Hawley says that calcium depletion in the forest affects the entire food chain. He cites other research that shows harmful impact on insects and birds that eat calcium-deficient plants.
Hawley says that you may not know a forest is sick just by looking at the trees:
(Hawley) “We’re not saying you’re going to see sickened trees because they have reduced calcium on the membrane or reduced calcium in the soil. But what we hypothesize is that it makes them more susceptible to potential future disease.”
(Host) The research team’s findings were published in the journal, “Ecosystem Health.”