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A report on field work from the Subterranean Ecology Institute, Inc., a 501(c)3 nonprofit corporation. http://cavelife.org

TRANSCRIPT

  • The 2011 Belize
    Biospeleology Expedition
    The Subterranean Ecology Institute, Inc.
    SJTaylor/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • In April 2011, an expedition to southern Belize
    was undertaken by a team which
    included 3 professional biospeleologists
    and other experts who set out to
    document previously unstudied
    subterranean biodiversity
    JKKrejca/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Fieldwork focused
    on caves and karst
    in the Toledo District
    of southern Belize
  • the team members
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Led by local Mayan guides, we visited several caves over a period of about two weeks
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Along the way, we admired many natural wonders of the jungle
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Some of the caves have large skylights, with trees growing in them. These skylights also function as natural pitfall traps, bringing energy into the caves to feed the organisms that live in the darkness, with little access to other energy sources.
    CMSlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • This is a baited bottle trap, being placed in a pool in a cave in hopes of catching
    some aquatic troglobites.
    CMSlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Cave inhabiting crickets, such as this one, were common inhabitants of the twilight zone of the caves. They probably exit the cave at night to forage on the forest floor.
    Family Gryllidae: Subfamily Phalangopsinae:
    Tribe Luzarini: SubtribeAmphiacustina: Mayagryllus sp.
    JKKrejca/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Each place we stopped to sample in the caves, we collected data on light availability, temperature, wind, relative humidity, and substrate. These data are carefully recorded on field sheets, and are associated with numbered sample jars.
    Humidity
    Meter
    MESlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Two small cave invertebrates we found feeding on a piece of debris
    Diplura: Campodaeidae
    Isopoda: Trichoniscidae
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Amblypygids, tailless whip scorpions, are
    large arachnids. They were common in
    the caves, but likely are not
    cave-limited species.
    JKKrejca/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • This harvestman (Opiliones) is a troglobitic,
    or cave-limited, species. It has a small eyespot,
    visible in this image, but it is much reduced in
    comparison to closely related surface species.
    It is amost certainly an undescribed species
    our first discovery!
    SJTaylor/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • The delicate webs of larval fungus gnats, or webworms (Diptera: Mycetophilidae) were present in many of the caves. We are unsure of which adult fly species these larvae are associated with. In temperate North America, there are other species of these flies whose larvae make a web with a somewhat different construction.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Looking into one of the cave entrances, you can see from the size of the four people, that the passage was often quite large.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • A tiny fungus found growing on a piece of organic debris in one of the caves. Fungi play an important role in cave ecosystems, helping to break down organic debris, and providing food for other inhabitants.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • One of our team closely examines an amblypygid (tailless whip scorpion).
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • We spend many hours doing just this, closely examining all surfaces in search of tiny cave invertebrates, and carefully recording our findings on field forms.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • This animal represents one of the most exciting new discoveries from our trip. This is a Schizomid, or Shorttailedwhipscorpion, and is an undescribed new species discovered during our bioinventory.
    It is a distant relative of spiders, mites, ticks, scorpions.
    SJTaylor/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • We spent a lot of time trying to photo-document our trip, so we can better explain what we found, and why it is important. We were fortunate to have several good photographers on the trip.
    JKKrejca/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • In the lush jungle, cave entrances were sometimes hard to see!
    JKKrejca/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • This tiny trichoniscid isopod is an eyeless troglobite, distantly related to pillbugs.
    It is likely a new, undescribed species.
    SJTaylor/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Another one of the more exciting discoveries was this tiny, cave adapted and undescribed new pseudoscorpion species.
    SJTaylor/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • A cave-adapted millipede (Diplopoda), likely an undescribed species.
    SJTaylor/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • One of the many kinds of spiders that were collected. Some of these will likely turn out to be new species, once weve had them examined by appropriate experts.
    JKKrejca/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Although this, and several other scorpions, were found in the caves, none appeared to be cave-limited, or cave adapted, species.
    SJTaylor/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Big, beautiful passage, deep within a cave in southern Belize.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Fruit bats
    are important
    pollinators in the
    tropics. The plants they pollinate include fruit trees utilized by humans. Caves provide critical shelter needed for the bats to rear their young. Here, an adult is roosting with four younger individuals. The feces of these bats, in turn, provides a rich food source for the invertebrates living in the caves.
    MESlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • We sometimes made rather extreme efforts to locate cave animals in unusual habitats. This cave pool is more than 15 feet deep.
    MESlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • MESlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • In addition to sampling the caves, we also attempted to collect groundwater invertebrates by using a baited trap lowered down into several water wells.
    JKKrejca/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Using heat and light, tiny invertebrates were extracted from leaf litter collected at the caves using this device, called a Berlese funnel.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • A typical hike back from the caves.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Prior to conducting our fieldwork, we worked closely with the Belizian Institute of Archeology to obtain research permits, as they are responsible for all research activities in the caves. We also worked with the Belize Forest Department to obtain a collecting permit. Finally, we work with customs in both Belize and the USA, as well as US Fish & Wildlife, to obtain final clearance and approval to bring materials back to the laboratory where we are now sorting and studying our findings.
    MESlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Bruno Kuppinger, a local licensed tour guide, proved indispensible in providing logistical support and helping us arrange for local guides.
    GHoese/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • Cooling off at the end of the day after a long hike
    MESlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • MESlay/SEI 2011
    http://cavelife.org/
  • We thank:
    Dr. John Morris, Director of Research, Belize Institute of Archeology
    Dr. Jaime J. Awe, Director, Belize Institute of Archaeology
    Mr. Hector Mai, Belize Forest Department
    Bruno Kuppinger, Toledo Cave & Adventure Tours
    Shirley & the staff at Sun Creek
    Dr. Keith Prufer, University of New Mexico
    Phil Walker & Alan Braybrooke of SWCC
    Ira Taylor
    Jason Valdes
    All of our Mayan guides
    Belize Institute of Archeology
    Beli