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Highlights

  • The impact of cave tourism on cave-dwelling arthropods is understudied
  • We investigated the microhabitat selection of an endemic cave dwelling woodlouse
  • Our target species is primarily affected by microclimate alterations
  • Monitoring of cave microclimate is recommended

Abstract

Human activities in subterranean environments can affect different ecosystem components, including the resident fauna. Subterranean terrestrial invertebrates are particularly sensitive to environmental change, especially microclimatic variations. For instance, microclimate modifications caused by the visitors may directly affect local fauna in caves opened to the public. However, since numerous factors act synergistically in modulating the distribution and abundance of subterranean species, it remains challenging to differentiate the impact of human intervention from that of other factors. Therefore, evidence of the impact of tourism on cave invertebrate fauna remains scarce. Over a year and with approximately two visits a month, we investigated the effects of the presence of visitors on the subterranean endemic woodlouse Armadillidium lagrecai in the strict natural reserve of Monello Cave (Sicily, Italy). We found that natural microclimatic fluctuations, and not direct human disturbance, were the main factors driving the distribution of A. lagrecai. Specifically, A. lagrecai select for more climatically stable areas of the cave, where the temperature was constantly warm and the relative humidity close to saturation. We also observed a significant temporal effect, with a greater abundance of A. lagrecai in summer and a gradual decrease during the winter months. The number of visitors in the Monello Cave had no effect on the abundance and distribution of A. lagrecai. However, considering the high sensitivity of the species to microclimatic variations, it seems likely that a significant increase in the number of visitors to the cave could indirectly affect this species by altering local microclimate. Constant monitoring of the environmental parameters within the cave is therefore recommended.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.5038/1827-806X.50.1.2370

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 4.0 License.

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Supplementary Table 1

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