Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Cave Barcoding

It has been conventional wisdom for many years to see caves as depauperate ecosystems in terms of biodiversity. This notion derives from a confluence of factors: the lack of primary producers for the most part, the limitations of space, and the fact that most studies have been done in temperate latitudes, in which caves are rather poor in terms of biodiversity when compared with their tropical counterparts. However, caves are teeming with live which is often well adapted to a permanent life underground.

Compared to surface species, cave-adapted faunas generally have small geographic ranges and high levels of endemism at all scales of measurement, making their biogeography distinct. There are quite a few records of single cave endemics in cave-adapted species and it is not rare that adjacent cave systems with similar conditions host entirely different faunal communities.

When it comes to caves our knowledge about their biodiversity is very limited and the discovery of new species is quite common. Just recently a new family of spiders was discovered in caves in Oregon and California

One common problem though is the fact that many organisms have shown morphological stasis as they acquired specific adaptations to a highly selective environment. The result is a lot of undiscovered cryptic species as scientists only start to look at cave life more systematically. DNA Barcoding could be of great help in this undertaking.

Therefore, members of the Biodiversity Institute of Ontario, the Biospeleological Register of the the Hesse Federation  for Cave and Karst Research, the German Federation for Cave and Karst Research, and the Goethe University, Frankfurt am Main have joined forces to build up a DNA Barcode library for all described species that are known to occur in caves in Germany. This project is part of the German Barcode Initiative GBOL. The study will first utilize material collected over the past years in German caves and eventually include more freshly collected material. It is the hope of the participating researchers that this project will serve as a model for other countries and regions to survey the biodiversity of their caves

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