Cave Ecology and Cleanup

Cave Ecology | Cave Clean-Up

Cave Ecology

Caves provide unique advantages and disadvantages for the creatures that live in them, depending on which zone of the cave they make home.

Cave Zones.
Diagram of zones; entrance zone, twilight, dark.

Entrance/Light Zone:

This is the cave zone closest to the environment outside the cave mouth. There is sunlight, the temperature varies and green plants can grow here. This is where troglophiles, creatures that need to leave the cave to find food such as raccoons, fox, and the occasional bear mainly make their home. You can also find moss, snails, and salamanders.

Moss covering the entrance zone of a cave.
Moss covering the entrance zone of a cave.

Twilight zone:

As the name suggests, it is here the light fades to nothing. While there is some diffuse light, there is not enough to support green plants. Trogloxenes (species that can complete their life cycle in-cave but may also be found outside) are predominantly found here, such as cave salamanders and cave crickets.

Cave Salamander.
Cave Salamander.

Dark Zone:

This is where the cave is at its blackest. The temperature remains the same year round, the mean of the surface temperatures above it. Troglobites live in these darkest reaches of the cave, completing their whole life cycle in the dark. These creatures often lack pigmentation and eyes and usually have super-slow metabolisms, allowing them life spans that boggle the mind. (Reproducing at 100 and living to 175, anyone? All you have to do is become the Orconectes australis crayfish, found in Shelta Cave in Alabama).

Total darkness in a cave.
Total darkness as seen in a cave.

Cave Clean-Up

Due to the sensitive nature of the cave ecosystem, it’s vital that outside contaminants be kept to a minimum. When efforts to keep trash out fail, it falls to us to take out the trash.

Cleaning cave graffiti.
Cleaning cave graffiti.

Careless spelunkers sometimes leave behind batteries (which can leak battery acid), snack wrappers, and glass bottles. Even natural events such as big thunderstorms or spring thaw runoff can wash plastic bags, old water bottles, straws, ect. into the cave.

We have to be mindful when in caves, no matter if it's recreational caving, surveying, or doing a cleanup; sometimes the easiest way isn’t what is best for the cave. Paint thinner is very effective at removing spray paint; however it is not a good choice for use in a fragile ecosystem!

Sinkholes were often used as a garbage dump. Ready-made hole in the ground where you don’t have to worry about hauling it off your property? Why not fill it with trash? The problem with this mindset is that water drains through the sinkholes and into the aquifer. WUSS has pulled mattress box springs, rope, pop cans, refrigerators, washers, broken dolls, tvs, radios, toilets, tables, car batteries, a VW Beetle, tires, and more out of sinkholes.

[Beetle Photo Here Please!!]

Sometimes a sinkhole is the entrance to a cave as well, and if you get all the garbage out of the way you may be rewarded with a ‘new’ cave to explore.

If you want more information about our next cleanup effort, contact the officers.