Calcium decline reduces population growth rates of zooplankton in field mesocosms

Regional calcium (Ca) decline, a legacy of acid deposition and logging, is a potential threat to aquatic organisms. Lake surveys and laboratory studies indicate that Ca-rich daphniids are likely most susceptible, allowing for competitive release of other taxa with low Ca demand. Indeed, dramatic shifts in zooplankton community structure have been documented in lakes where Ca has declined, amid multiple other stressors. Given the perceived threat of this large-scale stressor, manipulative studies are needed to evaluate causal relationships between Ca decline and zooplankton community structure. We analysed per capita growth rates of zooplankton from three independent mesocosm experiments where we manipulated aqueous Ca concentrations to reflect current and future Ca concentrations. In two experiments where Ca concentration was reduced to 0.6 or 0.9 mg/L, we observed reduced growth rates for several taxa, including daphniids, bosminids, and copepods. No effect of Ca was detected in the experiment where Ca concentrations ranged from 1.2 to 2.5 mg/L, a gradient representing 68% of lakes in south-central Ontario. These results suggest that future Ca decline in soft-water Canadian Shield lakes may be accompanied by shifts in community structure and overall declines in zooplankton production.