Strontium can replace calcium in triggering neurotransmitter release, although peak release is reduced and the duration of release is prolonged. Strontium has therefore become useful in probing release, but its mechanism of action is not well understood. Here we study the action of strontium at the granule cell to Purkinje cell synapse in mouse cerebellar slices. Presynaptic residual strontium levels were monitored with fluorescent indicators, which all responded to strontium (fura-2, calcium orange, fura-2FF, magnesium green, and mag-fura-5). When calcium was replaced by equimolar concentrations of strontium in the external bath, strontium and calcium both entered presynaptic terminals. Contaminating calcium was eliminated by including EGTA in the extracellular bath, or by loading parallel fibers with EGTA, enabling the actions of strontium to be studied in isolation. After a single stimulus, strontium reached higher peak free levels than did calcium (approximately 1.7 times greater), and decayed more slowly (half-decay time 189 ms for strontium and 32 ms for calcium). These differences in calcium and strontium dynamics are likely a consequence of greater strontium permeability through calcium channels, lower affinity of the endogenous buffer for strontium, and less efficient extrusion of strontium. Measurements of presynaptic divalent levels help to explain properties of release evoked by strontium. Parallel fiber synaptic currents triggered by strontium are smaller in amplitude and longer in duration than those triggered by calcium. In both calcium and strontium, release consists of two components, one more steeply dependent on divalent levels than the other. Strontium drives both components less effectively than does calcium, suggesting that the affinities of the sensors involved in both phases of release are lower for strontium than for calcium. Thus, the larger and slower strontium transients account for the prominent slow component of release triggered by strontium.