• A ten-year study shows that algae and cyanobacteria can be found in the cave aphotic zone
  • In cave aphotic zone both live individuals and remnants of algae and cyanobacteria were found
  • Algae and cyanobacteria were most frequently associated with hydrologically active caves
  • Algae and cyanobacteria were more often found in deeper parts of the caves
  • Algae and cyanobacteria should be acknowledged in the discussion of cave food nets


Microphototrophs (algae and cyanobacteria) in karst environments have been intensively studied in aquatic epigean habitats. In recent decades knowledge about the communities inhabiting cave entrances and lampenflora has grown substantially, but the data about the communities in aphotic cave zone are scarce. This study aimed to investigate spatio-temporal presence of microphototrophs in the aphotic zone of Veternica Cave (Mt. Medvednica karst) and to present additional preliminary data from 22 caves of the Dinaric karst. The data were collected over ten years, in parallel with research on cave phagotrophic protists. In addition to the remains of microphototrophs, living algae and cyanobacteria were found in the cave aphotic zone. Diatoms (Bacillariophyta) were the most frequent group found, followed by green algae (Chlorophyta), golden-brown algae (Chrysophyta) and the filamentous cyanobacteria (Cyanobacteria). The presence of microphototrophs was detected throughout the year but showed spatio-temporal variations. Microphototrophs were absent in the parts of Veternica Cave with seeping and dripping water, while they were occasionally present in the hydrologically active parts of the cave. The presence of diatoms in the aphotic zone of Veternica Cave was related to hydrological conditions, and was not affected by the distance from the cave entrance. The presence of microphototrophs in caves of the Dinaric karst has been associated with caves subject to various types of flooding by endogenous and exogenous water. Despite the fact that microphototrophs are passively transported to the caves from the surface habitats, the presence of live individuals in the cave aphotic zone implies that they should not be neglected in discussions about cave food webs. Future research of microphototrophs should be focused on the species identification, their abundance, survival time, and detail description of conditions that determine their presence in caves.



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