Discovery And Characterization Of Cave Arthropods

Why an animal would abandon the lighted world and lose such adaptive characters as eyes, pigment, and dispersal ability to live permanently in perpetually damp, dark, barren caves has long fascinated both biologists and laymen. In fact, it is these pale, blind obligate cave species that one usually envisages under the rubric of cave animal, and it is this group that is featured in this article. However, numerous other animals live all or part of their life cycles in caves or are regular visitors. Although some cave insects were known in ancient times, the first scientific writings on this topic began in northern Italy in the mid-16th century with the discovery of blind aquatic crustaceans in cave streams. The science of cave biology (biospeleology) was founded in the mid- to late 19th century with studies of limestone caves in southern Europe by Schinner and continued into the early 20th century by Racovitza and colleagues. They devised the currently used classification scheme for cavernicoles, based on the degree of association with caves. Also, in the mid-1800s, obligate cave animals were discovered in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, and in a few other North American limestone caves, but the study of North American cave faunas generally lagged behind Europe for the next century. The loss of eyes and other apparently adaptive characters led to a revival, circa the turn of the 20th century, of Lamarckian (i.e., acquired rather than inherited characteristics) theories to explain their evolution. During this period several major expeditions went to tropical regions to search for obligate cave faunas, but for a variety of reasons none were found or recognized. The apparent absence of tropical troglobites (obligate cave species) and the relictual nature of temperate cave animals led to the development and general acceptance of the theory that these animals evolved only after populations were stranded in caves by changing climates that extinguished their surface relatives.

Troglobitic Adaptations

The most conspicuous aspect displayed by obligate cave arthropods is the reduction of structures normally considered adaptive (e.g., eyes, pigment, wings, and cuticle thickness). Compare the closely related surface and cave insects shown in Figs. 1A and 1B. Cave species also often lack a circadian rhythm and have relatively low metabolic and reproductive rates. A few characters are often enhanced, including modified structures such as increased hairiness, enlarged sensory organs, longer appendages, and specialized tarsi. These morphological, physiological, and behavioral changes allow the animals to

FIGURE 1 Cave and surface cixiid planthoppers. (A) Rain forest Oliarus species from Maui Island; note large eyes, dark color, and functional wings. (B) Adult female cave-adapted OOliarus polyphemus from Hawaii Island; note absence of eyes, enlarged antennae, and reduced wings and pigment. (Photographs by W. P. Mull, used with permission.)

FIGURE 1 Cave and surface cixiid planthoppers. (A) Rain forest Oliarus species from Maui Island; note large eyes, dark color, and functional wings. (B) Adult female cave-adapted OOliarus polyphemus from Hawaii Island; note absence of eyes, enlarged antennae, and reduced wings and pigment. (Photographs by W. P. Mull, used with permission.)

maintain water balance, breathe unusual gas mixtures, disperse, reproduce, and locate food and other resources in their environment. The remarkable convergent evolution of troglomorphy (adaptations to caves) among unrelated cave species in different regions of the world indicates that selective pressures must be similar in all such environments.

Taxonomic Overview of Troglobites terrestrial cave arthropods Insects, arachnids, and millipedes are the dominant terrestrial groups living in caves. Not all orders are represented, however. Among the Hexapoda, the orders Collembola, Orthoptera, Hemiptera, Coleoptera, and Diptera predominate. The springtails (Collembola) are represented by many troglophilic (facultative cave residents) and troglobitic species and are important scavengers in many caves. Most cavernicolous orthopterans are troglophilic or trogloxenic (roosting in caves), with the cave crickets (Rhiphidophoridae) being the best known. As more tropical caves are studied, many new species of troglobitic true crickets (Gryllidae) are being described. Among

Hemiptera, both suborders occur in caves: true bugs (Heteroptera) and planthoppers and allies (Auchenorrhyncha or Homoptera of some classification systems). Thread-legged bugs (Reduviidae) are common troglophiles in warmer caves, and a few troglobitic forms are known from the tropics. Most species are cryptic, and many new cave species await discovery. Several other hemipteran families contain troglophilic species. Planthoppers, especially Cixiidae (Fig. 1B), are common in tropical caves. Ongoing surveys for cixiids indicate that each isolated cave system may harbor one or more cave-adapted species, and the group may be among the most speciose families in caves, rivaling even the carabid ground beetles in temperate caves.

Beetles (Coleoptera), especially the families Carabidae, Leiodidae, and Staphylinidae, are especially well represented in the temperate caves. For example, the endemic North American ground beetle genus Pseudanophthalmus contains at least 250 species, which, with one exception, are found only in caves. Flies (Diptera) are dominant troglophiles in both tropical and temperate caves, but only a few blind, flightless troglobitic species are known.

Troglobitic species are also found in the orders Diplura, Thysanura, Blattodea, Dermaptera, Grylloblattodea, Psocoptera, and Lepidoptera. Troglobitic bristletails (Diplura) occur mainly in temperate caves. Cockroaches (Blattodea) are well represented in tropical caves, and many new species await description. Only a few cave-adapted earwigs are known, and most are from oceanic islands. Grylloblattids are restricted to glaciated mountains in northwestern North America and eastern Asia. They characteristically inhabit caves and crevices; however, most species also venture outside to feed in damp surface habitats. Many moths habitually roost in caves, and some are troglophilic scavengers or root feeders. A few are blind and flightless troglobites.

The arachnids are second only to the insects in numbers of terrestrial cave species. The spiders are common denizens of caves, with numerous troglobitic forms known from temperate and tropical caves. In many tropical caves, spiders instead of ground beetles are the top predators. Pseudoscorpions are also well represented in temperate and tropical caves, and over 300 cave-adapted species representing most families are known. Harvestmen (Opilionida) are more restricted in distribution, but most of the 26 families contain troglobitic species. Some surface species roost in caves in huge numbers. Mites (Acari) are often abundant and diverse in caves, especially species associated with guano. Most terrestrial cave species are troglophilic, but a few families, such as the Rhagidiidae, contain many troglobites. Cavernicolous species are also known among the palpigrades, schizomids, amblypygids, scorpions, and ricinuleids.

Myriapods are also well represented in caves. The millipedes are the third major group of cavernicolous arthropods, especially in temperate caves, where they are often the dominant scavengers in the ecosystem. The orders containing the most cave species are Julida, with numerous troglobites in Europe and North America; Chordeumatida and Polydesmida, with troglobites in Europe, North America and Japan; and Callipodida, with troglobites in Europe and the Near East. Four other orders (Polyxenida, Glomerida, Spirobolida, and Spirostrepida) each have a few cave-adapted species. Cave millipedes from the tropics are still poorly known, and many new species undoubtedly await discovery. Many ground-inhabiting centipedes regularly enter caves. Whether they can live and reproduce underground is unknown for most species, but a few are troglophilic or troglobitic. The rock centipedes (Lithobiomorpha) are widespread and include several troglobitic species. A few troglobitic giant centipedes (Scolopendromorpha) are known from the tropics. An undescribed 8-cm-long Scutigerimorpha from North Queensland, Australia, is one of the largest terrestrial troglobites known.

Two groups of terrestrial Crustacea are found in caves. Isopods in the suborder Oniscidea have adapted to caves many times, especially in the Mediterranean region and in the tropics. Fourteen of the 34 recognized families contain cave species. In contrast, only a few terrestrial amphipods (Talitridae) are found in caves, and most are from islands.

aquatic cave arthropods Aquatic subterranean habitats include underground lakes and streams, perched pools of water, water films, and water-filled phreatic aquifers. These aquatic habitats support diverse faunas of troglobitic (or stygobitic) arthropods. By far the dominant group is the crustaceans, with about 2700 cave-adapted species known worldwide. Water mites (Acari) are also well represented, especially in smaller interstitial habitats. Few insects have invaded subterranean aquatic habitats. The most successful group is the dytiscid diving beetles, several species of which are known from aquifers in Africa, Europe, North America, and Japan. Two troglobitic water bugs are known: a blind water scorpion (Nepidae) from a cave in Romania and a terrestrial water treader (Mesoveliidae) from Hawaii.

Zoogeography of Cave Arthropods

Until recently, obligate cave species were thought to occur mainly in temperate limestone caves, and the cave faunas of temperate Europe and North America are well characterized. Diverse cave faunas are also known from Japan, Tasmania, and New Zealand. However, in the past few decades discoveries of significant cave faunas in tropical caves, lava tubes, and even fractured rock layers have revolutionized our understanding of cave biology. These findings suggest that troglobites have evolved wherever suitable subterranean voids are available for sufficient time. They are now known from most regions that have been appropriately investigated. Thus rather than being exceptional, cave adaptation must be a general and predictable process among animals adapting to exploit underground resources.

In hindsight, the early expeditions to the tropics missed troglobites for three main reasons. (1) The environment of caves: Troglobites are restricted to deeper, constantly moist passages. Because cave temperatures are usually near the mean annual surface temperature (MAST) over the cave and, in the tropics, the surface temperature rises above and falls below MAST almost every day, most tropical caves are subjected to drying winds created by the sinking cold nighttime air. (2) Accessibility: The higher solution rate of limestone in the tropics creates large open cave systems, exacerbating the effects of the daily drying winds and making the deeper moist cave passages, where the troglobites are found, beyond the limits of safe exploration using the equipment available at that time. In addition, the caves found and explored were often bird and bat roosts, and the biologists could fill their containers with new species without going deeper. (3) Systematics: Ironically, many troglobites were collected, but the species belonged to groups unrelated to the animals found in temperate caves, and in fact unrelated to anything the temperate-based taxonomists had seen, so their status in the cave went unrecognized. As in all fields in biology, evolutionary biology is only as good as the systematics research upon which it is based.

Each cave region is inhabited by representatives of the surface fauna currently or historically living over the caves. Only a few surface taxa within each region successfully invaded caves. In general, the surface ancestors possessed characters that facilitated their shift into underground environments; i.e., they were already adapted to live in dark, moist rocky habitats and utilized food that was relatively common in caves. The chief ancestral habitats for terrestrial cave species include rocky margins of rivers, lakes, and seashores; leaf litter and moss in wet forests; and moist rocky terrains. Each cave system harbors relatively few species of troglobites; even the most diverse known fauna—that in the Postojna—Planina System, Slovenia—totals only 84 species. In North America, Mammoth Cave supports the most species (41). Among lava tubes, Bayliss Cave (North Queensland, Australia) contains the highest number (25). Because of the restricted distribution of each species, cave habitats are often likened to islands. Despite the few species found in each cave, the overall number of troglobites is quite large since subterranean habitats are much more extensive and widespread than is often assumed. Karst landscapes cover about 15% of the earth's surface, and cavernous lava and fractured rock habitats have not been mapped but may cover another 5% or more. Submarine caves have barely been investigated, but the diverse fauna derived from marine ancestors found in anchialine systems along seacoasts indicates that caves and cave-like habitats below the seafloor may harbor diverse ecosystems at least in shallow coastal areas.

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