Climate change may drive cave spiders to extinction
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Subterranean ecosystems present ideal opportunities to study mechanisms underlying responses to changes in climate because species within them are often adapted to a largely constant temperature. We have characterized the thermal conditions of caves in the western Alps, and related these hypogean climate data to the occurrence of Troglohyphantes spiders (Araneae, Linyphiidae). Our data indicated that present distributions reflect Pleistocene glaciation events and also pointed to specific responses as a consequence of changes in temperature. Constant temperatures recorded inside caves provide an approximation of the mean annual temperature outside, thus we extended the results to a regional scale. We used ecological niche modeling to predict habitat suitability both in the Pleistocene and under future global warming scenarios. These analyses pointed toward a future decline in habitat suitability for subterranean spiders and the potential extinction of the most restricted endemic species. When compared with other species that live in confined habitats such as islands and mountains, we expect cave species to be as much, if not more, vulnerable to climate change.