Perspective

The fauna of a large percentage of the world's cave habitats remain unknown to science, and new species continue to be discovered in well-studied caves. Additional biological surveys are needed to fill gaps in knowledge and improve our understanding of cave ecosystems. Improved methods for sampling the inaccessible smaller voids are needed. The cave environment is a rigorous, high-stress one, which is difficult for humans to access and envision because it is so foreign to human experience. Working in caves can be physically challenging. However, recent innovations in equipment and exploration techniques allow ecologists to visit the deeper, more rigorous environments.

In spite of the difficulties of working in the stressful environment, several factors make caves ideal natural laboratories for research in evolutionary and physiological ecology.

Since cave habitats are buffered by the surrounding rock, the abiotic factors can be determined with great precision. The number of species in a community is usually manageable and can be studied in total. Questions that are being researched are how organisms adapt to the various environmental stressors; how communities assemble under the influence of resource composition and amount; and how abiotic factors affect ecological processes. For example, a potential overlap between cave and surface ecological studies occurs in some large pit entrances in the tropics. The flora and fauna living in these pits frequently experience CO2 levels 25-50 times ambient.

See also: Colonization; Rocky Intertidal Zone; Soil Ecology.

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