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View of surface from inside lava tube, NM

SBSC Cave Ecological Research

The USGS and Merriam-Powell Center for Environmental Research have been jointly conducting ecological inventories of caves in Arizona and New Mexico since 2005. Work has focused on Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, BLM-Arizona Strip lands, and Cathedral Cave Preserve in Arizona, and El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico. Mr. Kyle Voyles, BLM Arizona State Coordinator and Physical Sciences Technician, NPS Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, is co-principal investigator on all phases of the northern Arizona research.

Invertebrates

New Millipede Genus discovered from caves in greater Grand Canyon Region New genus of booklouse, Family Sphaeropsocopsis from Grand Canyon Parashant National Monument.  Courtesy Ed Mockford, Illinois State University-Normal.

In Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, a study of seven caves has resulted in the identification of 43 arthropods including 30 troglophiles, 6 trogloxenes, and 7 special case cavernicoles. This assemblage includes spiders, mites, springtails, thrips, crickets, booklice, beetles, ants, fleas and flies. It also resulted in the identification of 3 new insect genera, 4 new species discoveries, 3 potential new species, 1 range expansion and 1 possible range expansion. Species discoveries include 2 trogloxenes (a new genus in the cave cricket family Rhaphidophoridae, and 1 new species of Ceuthophilus, another cave cricket), 1 troglophilic springtail, and 3 troglophiles (one new genus of Sphaeropsocid booklouse, and 2 beetle species). There may also be two additional new species of cricket and another new beetle species, but additional research is needed to confirm this. Our work also expanded the range of one booklouse species, which was previously known from only 2 other localities —the Tucson Mountains of southern Arizona and in southeastern Nevada. One ant species was also identified that may represent the first record of this species in Arizona.

Work in the BLM Arizona Strip has resulted in the identification of a new genus of millipede (representing one new species), which is known to occur in three caves. We have also identified a possible new species of copepod, which occurs in sulfur pools within the cave's deep zone.

New cricket genus discovered from Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, AZ - Courtesy Kyle Voyles / NPS

Research from two caves at Cathedral Cave Preserve has resulted in the identification of spiders, millipedes, springtails, crickets, beetles, moths, and flies. One of these caves contains the new millipede genus (representing a second new species), a new species of springtail, and one new Rhadine beetle species (Family Carabidae).

Invertebrate specimens from surveys in El Malpais lava tubes are awaiting identification. However, we have placed most of the specimens collected into coarse taxonomic groupings, including diplurans, spiders, springtails, booklice, beetles, and flies. Our work included resurveying three caves surveyed during the mid-1990s. Refer to the “Cave Dwelling Arthropods of the Southwest” page for more information on El Malpais National Monument cave-dwelling arthropods.

Bats

Research at Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument resulted in the identification of three possible bat maternity roosts, one day roost, one hibernaculum, and two night roosts. We identified two pallid bat (Antrozous pallidus) maternity roosts, and one possible fringed myotis (Myotis thysanodes) maternity roost. We attempted unsuccessfully to trap bats at another cave, which we identified as a day roost containing an unknown myotis species. We also identified one hibernaculum and two possible night roosts of Townsend's big-eared bat (Corynorhinus townsendii). Night roosts were inferred by a significant deposition of moth wings on the floor of the entrance and twilight zone of the cave.

Long-eared myotis bat from cave on North Rim Grand Canyon, AZ - Courtesy Kyle Voyles / NPS

For Cathedral Cave Preserve, we confirmed that two caves within the preserve are used as maternity roosts for Townsend's big-eared bat, and also as a hibernaculum for additional species. Over the past three years of study, gravid females have alternated establishing maternity roosts between these two caves. They used one cave as a maternity roost for two seasons and then switched to the second cave during the third season of observation. One cave also supports a hibernaculum of Myotis sp. and western pipistrelles (Pipistrellus hesperus).

In El Malpais National Monument, we confirmed the continued use of two caves as maternity roosts and documented one hibernaculum. We also observed a known roost of Mexican free-tailed bats that contained several thousand individuals in -mid-October 2007. We returned to the cave four days later and found only several dozen bats in this roost. We also confirmed Townsend's big-eared bats continue to use one cave as a maternity roost on the monument. Also, one cave is used by Townsend's big-eared bat as a hibernaculum. We counted at least 100 hibernating bats during 2005 and 75 in 2007. We suggest the maternity roost and hibernaculum may represent members of the same population.

Other Wildlife Use of Caves

Coyote found exiting cave on BLM Arizona Strip

At Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, we found probable ringtail scat within one cave. Ringtails are known to use caves to hunt bats, so it is not uncommon to encounter middens from this animal at the entrances as well as deep within the cave interior. We also identified several caves that contained packrat middens within the entrance to the twilight zone of the cave. Two caves were extensively used by porcupines and one cave contained owl pellets within the light and twilight zones. One black-tailed jack rabbit carcass was observed within the entrance of one cave. It likely served as a food source for the cave-dwelling arthropods inhabiting this cave.

Spiny Lizard at cave entrance Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument, AZ

On the BLM Arizona Strip lands, we've identified several caves that contain tiger salamanders. At some sites, these salamanders may remain in the caves year-round. We also observed a family of four coyotes using another cave. This cave contained the only known water source in the area, and we believe the coyotes were using this cave as both a den and water source. We also found fresh porcupine droppings and searched for the porcupine by belly-crawling through a tight passage. However — and perhaps fortunately — we were unable to find the porcupine.

Herd of Javalina in cave, Cathedral Caves Preserve, AZ

At Cathedral Caves Preserve, tiger salamanders are known to use one cave year round, and another cave is known to support a herd of at least five javelina (collared peccaries) during the winter. Also, one of the owners encountered a mountain lion within the cave used as a den by the javelina. We suspect the mountain lion may have been searching for the javelina. At El Malpais National Monument, one cave contained the carcass of a male raccoon. Another cave contained probable ringtail scat.

We are currently expanding upon this research. We will update this page as our work progresses. Please check back for updates!

Popular Press

Cave ecological research conducted by SBSC researchers has attracted national and international attention. We have provided several links to media coverage which highlights some of our research and discoveries.

Acknowledgements: We thank Superintendent Ms. Kayci Cook Collins and her staff of El Malpais National Monument and Superintendent Mr. Jeff Bradybaugh and his staff of Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument for providing funding and logistical support for this research. Special thanks to Mr. Doug Billings and Mr. Tom Gilleland of Cathedral Cave Preserve for access and their continued support of ecological research on their property. Ara Kooser, Peter Polsgrove and Ben Solvesky provided invaluable field support. Ice Caves Trading Company, New Mexico provided us with camping and a secure place to store gear while in the field. Thanks to Robert Delph of the Colorado Plateau Museum of Arthropod Biodiversity for assistance with arthropod identifications.


SBSC Cave Research Contact:
USGS Southwest Biological Science Center
2255 N. Gemini Drive, Flagstaff, AZ 86001
J. Judson Wynne, 928.523.7757, jut.wynne@nau.edu or
Charles Drost, 928.556.7187, charles_drost@usgs.gov