16 October 2007

Water Bears, Roots and a Lava Bird Bath

13 October 2007 -- Four Caves in one Day; a new record.

Here I am contemplating the genesis of several dry-laid stone features on the Pahoehoe flow. I am featured sitting in front of the entrance to one of them. There was little evidence of prehistoric or historic use. These features are apparently the foundation of a housing structure, but used by whom? I do not know. Image Credit: Ara Kooser.

As I am typing this blog, I’m sitting next to a campfire underneath the star-filled New Mexican sky. My fingers are growing numb from working in the cold autumn air.

We had a successful field day today. I met Pete and Ara at the trail head this morning. I returned late from Albuquerque last night, and I stayed in a hotel in Grants.

Today, we had to pull traps from Bird Bath, and return to Roots Cave for some additional opportunistic invertebrate collecting. We also wanted to search for another cave we had difficulty locating on day one of this field stint.

Image: The elusive entrance to Roots Cave. If you do not have the coordinates to this cave, you would walk right by it. Fortunately, we do.

Image: Two spider egg masses. Note the soil and small rocks used to create a protective casing over the eggs.

We spent about one hour at Roots cave. We collected springtails, a few new spider species and centipedes. I am definitely looking forward to intensively sampling this cave. Once we completed this effort, we returned topside to each lunch.

Image: The namesake for Roots Cave. Notice the mychorriza (white nodules on the roots) and the microbes (silver spots on the walls).

From there, we headed out to look for the cave we were unable to find on Saturday. Today, we were able to find this cave. I concluded this cave is much warmer than many of the other caves I’ve visited on the monument. Also, while I do not think it will contain the species diversity like Bird Bath and Roots, this cave is still worth surveying. Also, it will be a good complement to the other caves already studied in this region. I found a light deposition of guano in several areas within the cave, and pack rat activity was evident in many areas near the multiple entrances of this cave.

Perhaps the most interesting thing I encountered in this cave was the lava speleothems. While they are not arguably not as beautiful as karst speleothems, these are still quite beautiful and certainly fascinating.

Getting comfortable and taking notes in Bird Bath Cave. Image Credit: Peter Polsgrove.

Once this was done, we headed back to Bird Bath Cave to pull traps. We did not find many invertebrates in our traps. We had only four crickets in one of our traps. Fortunately, two were males and we collected them for identification. We released the females. Once we had pulled all our traps, we decided to conduct another opportunistic search of the area below the roots, as well as within the roots. We actually collected two specimens of the little white bug that evaded capture four days prior. We also collected a few springtail specimens and one mite.

While the opportunistic collecting may not be of value from a statistical perspective, this information will be most helpful in characterizing the biodiversity of all caves studied. So, I do see there is much value to this aspect of the inventory.

As we were driving across the monument, I saw two mule deer at a water tank. By the time I got my camera ready, only one remained. This is a picture of the buck.

Finally, our day ended by returning to camp at Ice Caves. However, before we went back to our campsite, we went to the Ice Cave (the tour cave at the Bandera Ice Cave) to collect algae samples. During this time of year, the big ice sheet at the entrance of the cave is partially thawed and there is algae growing throughout. I am hoping I will find tardigrades within the algae. We shall see!

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