• 17 guano-related phosphates and 1 sulfate were identified in 22 European cave systems
  • 3 types of phosphates are present: precursors on fresh decaying guano; apatite-group minerals; and Al-, K-, Fe-, Mn-bearing phosphates
  • Spheniscidite and robertsite are the only known occurrence of these minerals in caves worldwide
  • Gypsum is often present, especially in dry environment
  • Radiometric guano dating shows ages up to 7000 years and deposition can be continuous over 1000 years


Guano is a typical deposit found in caves derived from the excretions of bats and in minor cases of birds. These organic deposits decompose and form a series of acid fluids and gases that can interact with the minerals, sediments, and rocks present in the cave. Over sixty phosphates are known and described from caves, but guano decay also often leads to the formation of nitrates and sulfates. In this study twenty-two European caves were investigated for their guano-related secondary minerals. Using various analytical techniques, seventeen phosphates, along with one sulfate (gypsum), were recognized as secondary products of guano decay. Among those minerals, some are very rare and result from the interaction of guano leachates with clays, fluvial deposits, or pyrite. Some of these minerals are even found only in the studied caves (spheniscidite, robertsite). The most common minerals belong to the apatite group. The common mineral association present in fresh decaying guano is brushite-ardealite-gypsum, minerals that usually are not present in older deposits because of their higher solubility. Most minerals are in hydrated form because of the wet cave environment; however, some specific dry conditions may favor the presence of dehydrated minerals, such as berlinite, formed during guano combustion. Investigation on the acidity of guano piles shows pH values as low as 3.5 with an increase of acidity with age and depth. Finally, cave guano deposits should be better studied in the future because of their role in paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic reconstructions and because it is important to better understand the origin of guano-related minerals, especially the phosphates and sulfates. Among all of the caves studied, Corona ’e sa Craba (Italy) and Domica-Baradla Cave (Slovakia-Hungary) are considered to be outstanding sites with respect to their phosphate mineralogy.



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Supplementary Table.pdf (205 kB)
Mineralogical results