A particular environment

Cave environment has certain physical and morphological characteristics that make it very particular and different from any other environment on earth. These characteristics don’t allow for all animals to survive, but only those that have developed particular evolutionary modifications. The hypogeous ambient can be divided into different under-ambients:

  • surface ambient
  • endogeous ambient (soil)
  • superficial subsurface (rock cracks and holes)
  • deep subsurface

The deeper the more animals have changed to adapt to it. Of all the aspects that characterize the subsurface the most important is the dark, which increases as one moves further from the entrance. This means that animals had to undergo major evolutionary changes in order to be able to move, to defend themselves or run away from predators, to hunt for food and to look for a partner and reproduce in permanent total darkness. Another significant consequence of  the absence of light is the gradual disappearance of vegetable organisms that live thanks to the chlorophyll photosynthesis. The superior plants are the first to disappear, while other plants were able to adapt to living in low light conditions. Plants that likely to live deep in caves are ferns (cryptogams) and the last vegetables that disappear are mosses and green- blue algae, that can live in conditions that our eyes perceive as almost total darkness. Therefore without vegetable organisms a very important food source is missing, which is typical of an oligotrophic environment, which means very short on food. In this way the food chain is upset and animals that live there must adapt to this.
Temperature is a very important parameter too, because it controls all living beings’ metabolisms. Caves have a very particular characteristic: the temperature inside is very stable and remains constant throughout the year at the average outside temperature for the year. This means that most  cave animals cannot manage thermal differences and even very minor temperature variations can kill them. Another important parameter is humidity, which is usually very high in caves and around cracks and fractures. Most cave animals need very high humidity levels, close to saturation: some are sthenhydros and need constant humidity. This is the reason why, if we want to go and look for animals in caves we must remember that dry areas are practically  uninhabited.

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