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Karst Surveys Guide Conservation

Arkansas Natural Heritage Commission - Friday, March 29, 2019

by Bryan Rupar, ANHC

The ANHC and partners from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS), The Nature Conservancy (TNC), Arkansas Game and Fish Commission (AGFC), and the Illinois River Watershed Partnership (IRWP) have recently completed surveys of federally listed cave species at Cave Springs Cave and Hell Creek Cave natural areas, as well as within federally and privately owned cave systems. This is part of a long-term scientific collaboration to amass data to guide conservation of Arkansas’s unique karst resources. Using the same methods and techniques every time, these multi-agency research teams gather population data every two years, collecting as much data as possible during each visit in order to reduce the disturbance to these sensitive species.

During each survey, the research teams compile population data, including the number, size, and locations of the federally listed species. These include three bat species [Indiana bat (Myotis sodalis), Gray bat (Myotis grisescens), and the Northern long-eared bat (Myotis septentrionalis)], one fish species [Ozark cavefish (Troglichys rosae)], and two crayfish species [Benton County cave crayfish (Cambarus aculabrum) and the Hell Creek Cave crayfish (Cambarus zophonastes)]. Additional data or samples may be collected to provide specific information about water quality or for DNA sequencing. The survey data can be used to help guide researchers in determining if the populations are stable, declining, or increasing.

The caves protected in the ANHC’s System of Natural Areas are closed to public access to protect the sensitive species that inhabit them. These closures are aimed to prevent a wide range of disturbances, ranging from the introduction of pollutants/pathogens (see The bat killer: White-Nose Syndrome).

In addition to increasing our knowledge of karst species, survey data helps the ANHC and conservation partners to determine actions needed for current and future protection and management efforts within our cave systems. The long-term conservation goal for these systems is simple: to better protect these important ecosystems and the animals that depend on them.


Top left -- A karst survey team pictured at Hell Creek Cave Natural Area. From left to right: Chris Davidson (USFWS), Ryan Leeson (ANHC), Mike Slay (TNC), Dustin Lynch (ANHC), Justin Stroman (AGFC), Brian Wagoner (AGFC), Pedro Ardapple (USFWS), and Bryan Rupar (ANHC).

Bottom left -- Bryan Rupar (ANHC) and Pedro Ardapple (USFWS) conduct a snorkeling survey for Benton County crayfish (Cambarus aculabrum) and Ozark cavefish (Troglichys rosae). Photo by Mike Slay, TNC.

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