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Cave Biology BIOSPELEOLOGY is the branch of science that deals with the study of cave organisms or the organisms of subterranean ecosystem. A true cave offers a distinct ecological niche as well as a cueless ecosystem. The Cavernicoles (organism lives inside it) provide direct evidence of evolutionary changes. Therefore, it is interesting to know their physiological, ethological genetical changes. Study started on this area in the 17th century. True caves are not found everywhere and are inaccessible and dark, further these are dangerous, because they have the property to cave in without any preindications. The cavernicoles have to continue their phylogenetic race in prepetual dark, constant envioronmental conditions, no green edible stuff, under sporadic supply of food etc. Due to these facts cavernicoles usually lost their sensory adaptations, shows behavioural/physiological divergence, low metabolic rates, and mainly complete lack of timing sense. The comparative study of any cavernicole with its nearest epigean ancestor gives very interesting and fruitful result.
Classification of Cavernicoles (Cave Organisms) The Cavernicoles have been divided into 3 major types (A) Troglobites: Species which live wholly and permanently in the dark zone of caves. Mostly are albinic because camouflage colouring is of no use. (B) Troglophiles: Species which live permanently in the dark zone, some of which can live in a suitable habitat away from the cave. (C) Trogloxene: Species which visit or take shelter but do not complete their whole life cycle in caves. They go to the outer world periodically for some requirements, usually food. Further it can be divided as accidental trogloxene and habitual trogloxene. The affix terminology is sufficient to recongnize them. Also refer the current classification: Sket B (2008) Can we agree on an ecological classification of subterranean animals? J Nat Hist 42(21–22):
Total darkness is a common feature in most of the true caves. The internal cave ecosystem remains unaffected by the day and night variations of the epigean environment. The atm. temp. of cave ecosystem remains almost constant throughout the year, reflects the annual mean temp. of that particular epigean surroundings. High Relative Humidity and is always nearer to 100%.
Life in the world of total darkness encounters long continual stress. Thus, cavernicoles seems to develop some adaptive mechanisms to cope with the environment for successful survival. Extra sensory organs, lower metabolic rate, lost of time keeping ability are few examples.
Absence of green plants and predatic pressure are some of the distinctive features true caves. Absolute darkness acts as a major limiting factor for the life inside subterranean cave. In the absence of light photosynthesis in green plants is just not possible, resultant no autotrophs. Thus, cavernicoles have to depend on the epigean food sources brought by seasonal floods and or bats.