Drought and China's Cave Species

Shu-Sen Shu
Wan-Sheng Jiang
Tony Whitten

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Between 2005 and 2012, a cave biodiversity project, supported by the World Bank/Global Environment Facility (1), allowed Chinese and international scientists to survey the fauna of 117 caves in 32 parts of Guangxi Autonomous Region, China. Nearly 10,000 cave specimens and over 500 species were collected, and 150 of these were unknown to science. Most species are limited to a single cave. It is increasingly clear that the cave fauna of southwestern China is a global hotspot of biodiversity (2).The impact of severe drought in southwestern China appears to be an example of how climate change and poor environmental management can combine to create a biodiversity disaster (3). The impact on cave biodiversity has been overlooked (4). Water resources in caves will decrease during drought seasons (5), especially when people are searching for and exstracting water. This will cause the endemic aquatic biodiversity to decline dramatically, or even disappear. Because these species have generally lost all pigmentation and are often blind, they are incapable of living outside the cave environment. Droughts affect many caves across southwestern China, and each hill or set of hills typically has its own endemic fauna (6, 7).This part of China and other karst regions in Asia and beyond have exceptionally range-restricted and acutely poorly known faunas, which are under threat from a range of climate change and human actions. We do not want to see a newly revealed global biodiversity hotspot lost before it is known.