Applying ecology for cave management in China and neighbouring countries.
Caves are arguably the hottest of the biodiversity hotspots as measured by endemism and threat, yet they receive very little attention or appropriate management. Some recent investigations in China have found that up to 90% of the animals collected in caves are new to science, yet environmental assessments for development projects in karst areas rarely if ever give attention to the cave fauna. The lack of light, and the cave-specific conditions of humidity, air flow and source of energy have resulted in extreme adaptations among the animals living within them. There is no government agency or non-governmental organization (NGO) on conservation concerned with caves in China or many other countries, and although there are caving expeditions, they concentrate on exploration rather than the cave fauna. Disturbance by limestone quarrying, visitors, tourism infrastructure, and changes in water flow through, or from above, the cave can have devastating effects on the highly adapted and range-restricted fauna. Some examples of World Bank-financed development projects which have led to cave conservation are given. Synthesis and applications. The cave biodiversity of China and neighbouring countries is worthy of conservation and there is a huge number of nationally endemic species, most of which are unknown. Destruction or damage to caves can cause entire communities of cave species to become extinct. To address this problem, the disparate, taxon-limited specialists interested in cave fauna need to reach out to the cave exploration community, the major conservation NGOs, and the state and local conservation agencies. Those charged with the task of conserving biodiversity should give thought to how the current national protected area systems and processes manage - and fail - to address the needs of the cave fauna, and look for the means to effect the necessary changes in management, based on the peculiar ecology of caves.