• A karst doline with ice in a temperate zone harbours high diversity of Collembola
  • Cold zone of the doline provides climatic microrefugia for endemic and relict taxa
  • The doline serves as an ecotone between cave habitats and the surface environment
  • Cold microhabitats at the doline bottom are under the threat of climate warming


The collapse doline of the Silická ľadnica Ice Cave, 351 m2 in area, is a unique phenomenon, a steep microclimate gradient in a low-altitude temperate karst in the Western Carpathian Mts, Slovakia, with a remarkable temperature decrease from the edge of karst plateau towards the doline bottom, which harbours perennial ice deposits. Collembola communities were studied in detail at seven sites along the 117.5 m long gradient slope during 2005–2007. An exceptionally high species richness of soil Collembola was observed, 129 species, which is about 91% of the total species richness generated by Chao1/ACE estimator. Species richness positively correlated with soil temperature at the sites. Among the occupants of the karst doline, 10 were Carpathian or Western-Carpathian endemics, and 21 were cold-adapted (psychrophilic) species with montane or boreo-montane disjunctive distribution. A high number and high abundance of endemic species occurred in the middle zone of the gradient slope. The study further showed that cold and wet karst scree slopes in the transition zone between surface habitats and caves may represent borderline habitats for obligate subterranean species. Communities at cold sites had much steeper rank-dominance curves compared to upper mesophilous and thermophilous sites, thereby documenting the harsh character of this environment. Our results suggest that small-scale microclimatic gradients in a low altitude karst in a temperate zone may serve as a reservoir (source) of exceptional soil fauna diversity, providing important climatic microrefugia for endemic and relict taxa. Karst landforms in the temperate zone with strong climatic inversions may harbour high biodiversity and thus should be central in biodiversity conservation programs.



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