Temperature variation and the presence of troglobionts in terrestrial shallow subterranean habitats

Tanja Pipan
Heriberto López
Pedro Oromí

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Within the soil matrix and underlying rock, cracks and fissures and other air-filled spaces between rocks, sometimes called the milieu souterrain superficiel (MSS), are present in a variety of geological contexts. We examined year-long hourly temperature profiles at sites in lava in the Canary Islands and limestone in Slovenia. All sites had species that show morphological adaptations usually associated with cave-dwelling organisms, including elongated appendages and reduced eyes and pigment. MSS sites were studied at depths between 10 and 70 cm and showed strong seasonality, and most had a discernible diurnal cycle as well. The most striking difference from surface habitats was that the temperature extremes were much less pronounced in MSS sites. Temperature variability was not correlated with troglobiotic species richness. The presence of species with similar morphologies to those found in caves indicates that selective pressures are similar in cave and shallow subterranean habitats.