The Mammoth Cave area is one of the hotspots of biodiversity among cave animals in North America, but what are these animals, and where are they found? These are questions concerning cave ecology, which is the study of subterranean habitats and their inhabitants, that are best understood by personal observation of the animals and their interactions with cave environments. Participants in Field Cave Ecology will learn to find and identify a variety of cave animals, as well as see their behavior and interactions with other species. To explore some tenets of population ecology, students will find species that occur in such small numbers that they interact little with one another, and others that occur in assemblages so dense they obscure the substrate. Watching living animals can teach about competition for food and space and even their strategies for the ultimate competition: predation. Nowhere is the influence of geology more influential on the presence of cave fauna than in the central Kentucky karst area. We will observe zoogeographic patterns of the cave fauna as a function of the regional and local geology. For example, we will see cave beetles that are ubiquitous in caves of central Kentucky, while other widespread groups of cavernicoles are curiously absent. The local geology that determined the presence of the multi-level Mammoth Cave System provides a stage on which the animals partition this complex environment and inhabit it in myriad patterns. Students will see diverse cave and karst habitats including sinkholes, sinking streams and springs. The course will consist of a combination of classroom discussions that summarize the biological principles and objectives of each day, followed by field trips to surface and underground sites in and around Mammoth Cave National Park. At least one field trip will be taken outside of the park to look at a classic example of pollution ecology in the Hidden River Cave groundwater basin. Participants will receive much of the class material in the field and hands-on experiences like population censusing will be emphasized. The course is available as a workshop or for academic credit. There are no prerequisites for the class. This course will be held at the Cave Research Foundation’s Hamilton Valley Field Station adjacent to Mammoth Cave National Park. Each student taking the course for academic credit will be required to complete a field journal and an individual field project. For the latter, a biologically rich cave is available for student use on the grounds at Hamilton Valley.
Instructor: Dr. Jerry Lewis
Dr. Julian J. Lewis has been working with cave and other subterranean communities for over 40 years. His dissertation research encompassed the subterranean aquatic communities in Mammoth Cave where community composition, species diversity, and overall population ecology were addressed. As owner and operator of a biological consulting company that deals solely with cave, karst and groundwater biology, his experience is in the “real world” of evaluating subterranean communities and habitats whose fates range from being protected in nature preserves to being bulldozed under highways or industrial parks. His field experience spans from the Hawaiian Islands to Lorraine. His clients have included The Nature Conservancy, federal agencies, various engineering firms, departments of transportation, and natural heritage programs from many states. Current projects include the final pre-listing evaluation of populations and habitats of troglobitic species in Kentucky that are being placed on the federal list of endangered species (for U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service) and evaluation of nutrient flow through sinkholes into subterranean ecosystems (for U.S. Forest Service). In the world of academia, Dr. Lewis has published dozens of journal articles and book chapters. He is a life-long member of the National Speleological Society (N.S.S.) and is the editor for biology and conservation of their Journal of Cave and Karst Studies. He was presented the N.S.S. Science Award for lifetime achievement in the cave sciences. Dr. Lewis has taught a variety of classes at the university level and mentors graduate students as a member of their graduate committees. Currently he is the president of the Indiana Karst Conservancy, a member of the Cave Research Foundation, and sits on the boards of a variety of cave organizations and conservancies.