Saharan dust delivered by so-called 'red rains' strongly influences precipitation chemistry in the Mediterranean region. We show here that at rural sites in eastern Spain, red rains have much higher ion concentrations than non-red rains, and they account for up to 50% of the mean annual input of dissolved elements in bulk precipitation, though they make up only a minor part of the annual rainfall. The mean annual input of alkalinity in red rains is enough to neutralize the input of free acidity in acidic precipitation. Transport of Saharan dust is thus a major ecological force in Mediterranean ecosystems through its effects on the acid neutralizing capacity of the atmosphere and the atmospheric deposition of elements. © 1993 Kluwer Academic Publishers.