Obligate Cave Fauna of the 48 Contiguous United States


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Publication Date

January 2000


We assembled a list of obligate cave-dwelling species and subspecies, their county distribution, and their provisional global conservation rank. A total of 927 species and 46 additional subspecies in 96 families exclusively from cave and associated subterranean habitats have been described in the 48 contiguous states of the United States. The terrestrial (troglobitic) species are concentrated in northeast Alabama (especially Jackson County), with other concentrations in Kentucky, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Only 23 counties, comprising less than 1% of the land area of the 48 contiguous states, account for over 50% of the terrestrial species and subspecies. The aquatic (stygobitic) species are concentrated in Hays County, Texas, with other concentrations in Florida, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Only 18 counties, comprising less than 1% of the land area, account for over 50% of the aquatic species and subspecies. Endemism is high, with 54% of the species known from a single county. Approximately 95% of the species are listed by The Nature Conservancy as vulnerable or imperiled in the United States. These cave species comprise 50% of all vulnerable or imperiled species listed in databases of the Natural Heritage Program. Less than 4% of these subterranean species have federal status. Conservation can best be accomplished through habitat protection, which must include protection of the associated surface habitat.


Caves, Fauna, Biodiversity Conservation, Groundwater, Karsts, Aquatic Habitats, Habitat Conservation, Species Diversity

Document Type



Conservation Biology, Vol. 14, no. 2 (2000).