15 October 2007

A Bird Bath of Molten Lava

10 October 2007 El Malpais NM, New Mexico -- Three caves in a day.

Image: Ara standing above one of the entrances to Bird Bath Cave.

Today, we are going to visit three caves: Cedar Still, Bird Bath, and Roots Cave. Our plan is to pull traps from Cedar Still Cave, and deploy traps at Bird Bath and Roots Caves.

When we pulled traps from Cedar Still, we were not at all surprised to find there were absolutely no invertebrates. We suspect the cave is simply too cold and perhaps too extensively disturbed to support life.

This cave has been extensively used by humans. From what I can discern from this cave, it appears front portion was used prehistorically, while the back part of the cave was used historically to contemporaneously.

Root mats from Bird Bath Cave. Also, in the bottom right of this image are gold colored microbes. Dr. Diana Northup and Jessica Snider at University of New Mexico-Albuquerque are currently studying these cave microbes.

Once we pulled traps, our next stop was Bird Bath Cave. The synonym for this cave was drawn from a large lava formation within the cave dark zone that actually looks like a bird bath. This cave contained roots and was also characterized by heavy invertebrate activity. Once we had deployed traps within this cave, we conducted an opportunistic search for invertebrates. We spend most of our time searching in the root mats overhead. We collected numerous spiders, springtails and attempted to collect a ovate white bug about 5 mm in length. As I tried to catch it, it jumped from the root mats and escaped.

At the back of Bird Bath, we found a fully articulated small carnivore skeleton. This is most likely a ring-tailed cat. I'm going to compare cranial specimens to make this determination. Once I do, I'll update this blog accordingly.

Our opportunistic searches continued once we arrived at Roots Cave. Unfortunately, we arrived at this cave too late to deploy traps, so we chose to opportunistic collect instead. Roots cave is aptly named -- I’ve never seen so many roots in one cave. The nutrient loading associated with these roots is what is fueling the entire ecosystem within this cave. The organisms occurring with this cave is tied to the presence of these roots – without the roots, there would be few invertebrates within this cave.

This cave contained far more invertebrates than Bird Bath. However, I expect a large extent of activity to be constrained to the ceiling. Thus, it seems the opportunistic collect will serve to compliment our systematic trapping. Also, when we do this, I plan to collect a portion of the roots and use a Berlese funnel to extract these organisms.

Image: A small natural arch over the trench that contains Bird Bath Cave. Notice the small sandstone marker in the bottom left of the image. Sandstone markers are common out here and are often associated with prehistoric human use. There is a trail across the Ah-ah lava flow on the Bandera property that is lined with these sandstone markers. Jeff suggests this is an ancient Anasazi trail. The question is...did the Anasazi leave this marker?

No comments: