Carlsbad Caverns National Park: Paleontological resource inventory (public version)


Link to Full Text

Download Full Text

Publication Date


Publication Title

Natural Resource Report. NPS/CAVE/NRR—2020/2148. National Park Service. Fort Collins, Colorado


This document is an inventory of the paleontological resources of Carlsbad Caverns National Park (CAVE), representing a combination of field work and literature synthesis. It begins with background summaries about the park and its geological, paleontological, and scientific history. It then moves into descriptions of paleontological resources including taxa present, fossil localities, and museum collections. Lastly, it finishes by touching on the relationships paleontological resources have with other CAVE programs such as interpretation and law enforcement, general information about paleontological resource management and protection, and management recommendations. Appendices include lists of fossil taxa found within CAVE, a list of external repositories of paleontological resources, a summary of caves within the park with documented paleontological resources, a listing of pertinent laws and authorities on paleontological resources, and a geologic time scale. Carlsbad Caverns National Park, also a world heritage site, is renowned for the park’s namesake cavern, which is extensive, well-decorated, and possesses exceptionally large rooms. Several other caves at the park add to CAVE’s fame and importance, such as Lechuguilla Cave, the eighth longest cave in the world. More than 120 other caves, and numerous additional karst features dissolved out of the Permian-age Capitan Limestone and associated formations such as the Seven Rivers, Yates, and Tansill formations, can be found in the park. These rock units represent the slope, reef, back-reef, and nearshore/evaporite facies of a massive reef complex and shelf system that existed during the middle Permian (Guadalupian); the same rock units exposed within the caves can be found at the surface in nearby Guadalupe Mountains National Park (GUMO). Owing to its origins as a reef complex, the bedrock of CAVE is extensively, and often abundantly, fossiliferous. With the exception of one small exposure of a basinal formation, there is likely no section of the park bedrock where fossils could not be found. Besides the Permian fossils, the fossilized remains and traces of terrestrial Pleistocene and Holocene organisms are located within the caves themselves. These are from roosting sites, dens, or natural traps. The presence of fossils in the greater Guadalupe Mountains has been known since at least the mid-19th century, but paleontological work at CAVE did not begin until the 1930s and 1940s. Even then, studies of the geology and especially the speleology of the caves has been the greater focus at CAVE, with paleontology often used as a supplement for that work. However, important paleontological studies have been conducted in the park, especially those related to paleoecology and the reconstruction of both CAVE’s Permian and Pleistocene ecosystems. Some of the taxonomic groups found within CAVE, such as sponges, have been well-studied. Others, such as gastropods, amphibians, reptiles, and birds, have not received much attention and are thus subject to a significant data gap. Five fossil species have been named from specimens discovered within CAVE. New fossil localities and new specimens in established localities continue to be found at CAVE; collections from Slaughter Canyon Cave in 2002 and 2003 added greatly to the Pleistocene vertebrates known from the park, and almost every expedition into Lechuguilla Cave reveals new invertebrate paleontological resources and localities. Some collected materials from prior projects, such as parts of the 1970s collection from Muskox Cave, have been only superficially prepared, cataloged, studied, or analyzed. The geologic formations exposed within CAVE vary horizontally as well as vertically, because different units horizontally trace changes in depositional environment. The entire talus slope and reef of the middle Permian Capitan reef complex are represented by the reef talus and massive members of the Capitan Limestone, respectively.

Document Type