Cave Communities

Guano Communities

Many animals live in or use caves. Cave-inhabiting vertebrates are relatively well-known. Cave bats, swiftlets (including the edible-nest swiftlet of Southeast Asia), and the oil bird in South America use echolocation to find their way in darkness. Pack rats in North America, along with cave crickets and other arthropods also roost in caves. Large colonies of these cave-nesting animals carry in huge quantities of organic matter with their guano and dead bodies. This rich food resource forms the basis for specialized communities of microorganisms, scavengers, and predators. Arthropods comprise the dominant group of larger animals in this community, and like their vertebrate associates, most species are able to disperse outside caves to found new colonies.

Deep Cave Communities

In the deeper netherworld, communities of mysterious, obligate cave animals occur. Most are invertebrates, but a few fishes and salamanders have colonized the aquatic realm. Crustaceans (shrimps and their allies) dominate in aquatic ecosystems, and insects and spiders dominate terrestrial systems. Although a few species are specialists on living plant roots or other specific resources, most are generalist predators or scavengers. The relatively high percentage of predators indicates the importance of accidentals as a food resource. However, many presumed predatory species, such as spiders, centipedes, and ground beetles, will also scavenge on dead animals when available. It is not advantageous to have finicky tastes where food is difficult to find. Thus, the food chain, which normally progresses from plants through plant feeders, scavengers, and omnivores to predators, more closely resembles a food web with most species interacting with most of the other species in the community.

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