The unique biological communities and geology found in caves depend on special environmental conditions to exist. While they may appear stable, these environmental conditions, such as temperature, humidity, or carbon dioxide level, are very sensitive to the climate and atmosphere outside the cave. Changing conditions outside the cave affect biological communities and geology within the cave.
Cave communities have unique biota, including a number of species that exist nowhere else in the world. For example, there are several invertebrate species known only from the main cave at Oregon Caves NMP. At Lava Beds NM, there are plants that only grow in the uniquely cool microclimates at cave entrances.
Cave communities are highly vulnerable to human impacts, such as locally introduced organic matter and alterations of cave structure and climate. Even such seemingly minor stresses as lint from visitors' clothing can affect microbial populations. Klamath Inventory and Monitoring Network started the cave monitoring program in 2017 to provide vital insights into the status and continuing condition of these complex and special ecosystems.
Objectives are to:
- Monitor the status and trends of cave climate
- Monitor the status and trends in water level in subterranean pools, and elevation and surface area of ice
- Monitor the status and trends of focal species and communities
- Monitor the status and trends in human visitation
- Annual and seasonal temperature and relative humidity
- Ice surface area and level (Lava Beds NM only)
- Water level of subterranean pools (Oregon Caves NMP only)
- Number of visitors and park staff entering cave per year
- Percent vegetation cover by group and by plant growth
- Relative abundance of hibernating bats per cave
- Count of observed fresh scat (Oregon Caves NMP only) or presence/absence of scat and other organic material (Lava Beds NM only)
- Invertebrate taxa richness, evenness, composition, and other community metrics