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Importance of soil calcium for composition of understory vegetation in boreal forests of Finnish Lapland

Närhi, Paavo, Middleton, Maarit, Gustavsson, Nils, Hyvönen, Eija, Sutinen, Marja-Liisa, Sutinen, Raimo
Biogeochemistry 2011 v.102 no.1-3 pp. 239-249
Geranium, Rubus, aluminum, biogeochemistry, boreal forests, botanical composition, calcium, carbon nitrogen ratio, edaphic factors, electrical conductivity, magnesium, mineral soils, pH, risk, sulfur, understory, water content, zinc, Finland, Lapland
To focus conservation efforts into forest areas with high biodiversity, more information is needed about soil-vegetation dependencies in Finnish Lapland. We studied understory vegetation and soil variables along a transect across a felsic-mafic lithological sequence in central Finnish Lapland. At 119 northern boreal forest sites, coverages of understory vegetation, several mineral soil chemical elements, soil electrical conductivity, pH, and dielectric permittivity, as a measure of soil volumetric water content, were measured. We found that soil Ca concentration and Ca:Al ratio were the main variables determining vegetation composition and diversity. Ca-rich soils were characterised by high electrical conductivity, pH, and Mg concentration, and by low concentration of Al, S, Zn, and low C:N ratio. Soil Ca concentration is a diagnostic measure of plant diversity as concentration higher than 100 mg kg⁻¹ resulted in a considerable increase in plant diversity. Sites with Ca concentration this high were rare, and probably important in maintaining high biodiversity. The median soil Ca:Al ratio was only 0.02, suggesting, according to general theory, a considerable risk for aluminium stress. We found Geranium sylvaticum and Rubus saxatilis to be good indicators for Ca-rich regimes and high plant diversity.