Climate, abiotic factors, and the evolution of subterranean life

  • David C. Culver Department of Environmental Science, American University, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington DC 20016
  • Tanja Pipan Karst Research Institute at ZRC SAZU, Titov trg 2, SI-6230 Postojna


Climate, and more generally the physical conditions in caves and other subterranean habitats have a profound influence on the biota. At longer time scale (centuries), climate change can force and/or isolate species in subterranean habitats. Not only Pleistocene climate changes, but earlier ones as well, suchas the Messinian salinity crisis were important in this regard. While many speleobiologists assume that caves are nearly constant environmentally and withscarce organic carbon, this is not the case, especially in non-cave subterranean habitats. Many shal­low subterranean habitats, suchas epikarst, seepage springs, and talus harbor highly modified organisms, ones without eyes and pigment and withelongated appendages. Yet these habi­tats are highly variable withrespect to temperature and other environmental factors, and often have highlevels of organic carbon. Overall, the role of these shallow subterranean habitats in the evolution and biogeography of subterranean species may be crucial. On smaller spatial scales, environmental differences, suchas differences in chemistry of epikarst water, may be im­portant in allowing large numbers of species to coexist.


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How to Cite
Culver DC, Pipan T. Climate, abiotic factors, and the evolution of subterranean life. AC [Internet]. 2010Dec.1 [cited 2020May29];39(3). Available from:
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