Disturbance Relicts in a Rapidly Changing World: The Rapa Nui (Easter Island) Factor
Please visit https://digitalcommons.usf.edu/kip_articles/1333 to view this article.
Caves are considered buffered environments in terms of their ability to sustain near-constant microclimatic conditions. However, cave entrance environments are expected to respond rapidly to changing conditions on the surface. Our study documents an assemblage of endemic arthropods that have persisted in Rapa Nui caves, despite a catastrophic ecological shift, overgrazing, and surface ecosystems dominated by invasive species. We discovered eight previously unknown endemic species now restricted to caves—a large contribution to the island's natural history, given its severely depauperate native fauna. Two additional species, identified from a small number of South Pacific islands, probably arrived with early Polynesian colonizers. All of these animals are considered disturbance relicts—species whose distributions are now limited to areas that experienced minimal historical human disturbance. Extinction debts and the interaction of global climate change and invasive species are likely to present an uncertain future for these endemic cavernicoles.