Calcium, snails, and birds: a case study
Abstract. Recent studies have shown that wild birds breeding in acidified areas have difficulties with obtaining sufficient calcium for their eggshells, and that the cause of it is the shortage of land snails. Many birds have to search for Ca-rich snail shells on a daily basis during egg production. Molluscs depend on litter calcium, which has decreased due to acidification of the environment. Calcium limitation may be a widespread phenomenon also in non-acidified, naturally Ca-poor areas. The problem is that while in the latter areas the time for development of specific adaptations may have been sufficient, then in acidified areas, on the contrary, calcium shortage is a recent phenomenon. Therefore, since the extent of calcium limitation in non-acidified areas is hard to derive from observational data, experimental approach is needed. We provide experimental evidence that specific calcium deficit does affect reproductive traits also in the birds breeding in naturally base-poor habitats. Our study was conducted in a heterogeneous woodland area in Estonia containing deciduous forest patches as well as base-poor pine forest with low snail abundance. Ca supplementation, using snail shell and chicken eggshell fragments, was carried out for pied flycatchers and great tits. Extra calcium affected positively several reproductive traits like egg volume and eggshell thickness, start of breeding, and fledglings parameters. The negative relationship between calcium availability and lay-date suggests that birds adjust their breeding tactics to conditions of Ca deficiency, for example, by postponing laying.