Caves and other subterranean habitats fulfill the requirements of experimental model systems to address general questions in ecology and evolution. Yet, the harsh working conditions of these environments and the uniqueness of the subterranean organisms have challenged most attempts to pursuit standardized research. Two main obstacles have synergistically hampered previous attempts. First, there is a habitat impediment related to the objective difficulties of exploring subterranean habitats and our inability to access the network of fissures that represents the elective habitat for the so-called “cave species.” Second, there is a biological impediment illustrated by the rarity of most subterranean species and their low physiological tolerance, often limiting sample size and complicating laboratory experiments. We explore the advantages and disadvantages of four general experimental setups (in situ, quasi in situ, ex situ, and in silico) in the light of habitat and biological impediments. We also discuss the potential of indirect approaches to research. Furthermore, using bibliometric data, we provide a quantitative overview of the model organisms that scientists have exploited in the study of subterranean life. Our over-arching goal is to promote caves as model systems where one can perform standardized scientific research. This is important not only to achieve an in-depth understanding of the functioning of subterranean ecosystems but also to fully exploit their long-discussed potential in addressing general scientific questions with implications beyond the boundaries of this discipline.

Collecting eco-evolutionary data in the dark: Impediments to subterranean research and how to overcome them

Lunghi E.;
2021

Abstract

Caves and other subterranean habitats fulfill the requirements of experimental model systems to address general questions in ecology and evolution. Yet, the harsh working conditions of these environments and the uniqueness of the subterranean organisms have challenged most attempts to pursuit standardized research. Two main obstacles have synergistically hampered previous attempts. First, there is a habitat impediment related to the objective difficulties of exploring subterranean habitats and our inability to access the network of fissures that represents the elective habitat for the so-called “cave species.” Second, there is a biological impediment illustrated by the rarity of most subterranean species and their low physiological tolerance, often limiting sample size and complicating laboratory experiments. We explore the advantages and disadvantages of four general experimental setups (in situ, quasi in situ, ex situ, and in silico) in the light of habitat and biological impediments. We also discuss the potential of indirect approaches to research. Furthermore, using bibliometric data, we provide a quantitative overview of the model organisms that scientists have exploited in the study of subterranean life. Our over-arching goal is to promote caves as model systems where one can perform standardized scientific research. This is important not only to achieve an in-depth understanding of the functioning of subterranean ecosystems but also to fully exploit their long-discussed potential in addressing general scientific questions with implications beyond the boundaries of this discipline.
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Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/11697/193246
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