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Sensitive ecological areas and species inventory of Actun Chapat Cave, Vaca Plateau, Belize

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Cave ecosystems are considered one of the most poorly studied and fragile systems on Earth. Belize caves are no exception. This paper represents the first effort to synthesize information on both invertebrate and vertebrate observations from a Belize cave. Based on limited field research and a review of literature, we identified two ecologically sensitive areas, and developed a species inventory list containing 41 vertebrate and invertebrate morphospecies in Actun Chapat, Vaca Plateau, west-central Belize. Actun Chapat contains two ecologically sensitive areas: (1) a large multiple species bat roost, and (2) a subterranean pool containing troglobites and stygobites. The inventory list is a product of sporadic research conducted between 1973 and 2001. Ecological research in this cave system remains incomplete. An intensive systematic ecological survey of Actun Chapat with data collection over multiple seasons using a suite of survey techniques will provide a more complete inventory list. To minimize human disturbance to the ecologically sensitive areas, associated with ecotourism, we recommend limited to no access in the areas identified as “sensitive.”
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148 • Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005
J. Judson Wynne and William Pleytez – Sensitive ecological areas and species inventory of Actun Chapat Cave, Vaca Plateau, Belize. Journal of Cave and Karst
Studies, v. 67, no. 3, p. 148–157.
Cave ecosystems are one of the most fragile ecosystems on
Earth (Elliott, 2000; Hamilton-Smith and Eberhard, 2000;
Krajick 2001). Sensitivity of bats and other cavernicoles (cave
dwelling organisms) is due to their vulnerability to human dis-
turbance. Roosting bats (Mohr, 1972; Hall 1994, Hamilton-
Smith and Eberhard 2000), maternity/nursery colonies
(McCracken, 1986, 1988, 1989; Cockrum and Petryszyn,
1991; Brown et al., 1993a, 1993b; Elliott 2000), and bat hiber-
nacula (McCracken, 1988; BCI, 1989, 1992; Humphrey, 1969;
Stebbings, 1971; Carlson, 1991; Harnish, 1992; Elliott, 2000)
are highly sensitive to human disturbance. Because many
troglobitic species (obligate cavernicoles) are endemic to a sin-
gle cave, have low population numbers (Krajick, 2001), and
are K-selected species (Hüppop, 2004), most troglobite popu-
lations are considered imperiled (Krajick, 2001). Despite their
sensitivity to disturbance, cave ecosystems are poorly under-
stood. Only a small fraction of caves in any region of the world
has been assessed at an ecological system level (Culver et al.,
2004). While cave roosting bat species are well documented
globally, troglobite richness and diversity remains poorly
described. Culver and Holsinger (1992) estimate global troglo-
bite diversity at 50,000 to 100,000 species.
The biota of Belize caves is poorly known. There is no
overall estimate of cave-obligate species in Belize, but in the
adjacent and comparable Yucatan Peninsula, Reddell (1979)
identified 565 cavernicoles, including 34 troglobitic species.
Reddell and Veni (1996) compiled an invertebrate inventory
list of Chiquibul Cave, but most other cave invertebrate reports
from Belize are brief accounts of new species discoveries or
opportunistic collections (refer to Gertsch, 1973; Muchmore,
1973; Williams, 1976a, b, c, 1987; Reddell and Veni, 1976;
Reddell, 1981; Rodriguez and Hobbs, 1989). There are few
reports on cave-roosting bats (e.g., B. Miller and C. Miller,
unpublished data; Elliott, 2000), even though almost one-third
of Belize bats roost in caves during some point during their life
cycle (Reid, 1997; BBIS, 2001). Epigean species (those inhab-
iting cave entrance areas, including reptiles, amphibians, and
mammals) have not been addressed in the literature.
Throughout Mesoamerica, caves played a central role in
Maya mythology (Bassie-Sweet, 1991). Consequently, activi-
ties of the ancient Maya are evidenced in many Belize caves.
Because “archaeo-ecotourism” is an important economic
resource for the country (Fernandez, 1989) and Actun Chapat
(Mayan for “centipede cave”) contains modified flowstone and
other evidence of Precolumbian Maya use, the cave was tar-
geted for development as a “show cave.” However, prior to
development, the Belize Institute of Archaeology (IOA) want-
ed additional information on the cave’s large bat roost, as well
as other ecological aspects of the cave. Thus, this current
research was conducted to provide the IOA with this ecologi-
cal assessment. The goals of this study were to: (1) identify all
ecologically sensitive areas; and, (2) develop a species inven-
tory list of Actun Chapat.
METHODS AND MATERIALS
STUDY AREA
Actun Chapat is located on the northern extent of the Vaca
Plateau, west-central Belize (Figure 1). Situated in the Maya
Mountain foothills approximately 20 kilometers south of the
SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL AREAS AND SPECIES
INVENTORY OF ACTUN CHAPAT CAVE,
VACA PLATEAU, BELIZE
J. JUDSON WYNNE1
USGS-Southwest Biological Science Center, Colorado Plateau Research Station, Flagstaff, Arizona, 86001 USA
WILLIAM PLEYTEZ
Chechem-Ha Caving Adventures, Benque Viejo, Cayo, Belize, Central America
Cave ecosystems are considered one of the most poorly studied and fragile systems on Earth. Belize
caves are no exception. This paper represents the first effort to synthesize information on both inverte-
brate and vertebrate observations from a Belize cave. Based on limited field research and a review of lit-
erature, we identified two ecologically sensitive areas, and developed a species inventory list containing
41 vertebrate and invertebrate morphospecies in Actun Chapat, Vaca Plateau, west-central Belize. Actun
Chapat contains two ecologically sensitive areas: (1) a large multiple species bat roost, and (2) a sub-
terranean pool containing troglobites and stygobites. The inventory list is a product of sporadic research
conducted between 1973 and 2001. Ecological research in this cave system remains incomplete. An
intensive systematic ecological survey of Actun Chapat with data collection over multiple seasons using
a suite of survey techniques will provide a more complete inventory list. To minimize human disturbance
to the ecologically sensitive areas, associated with ecotourism, we recommend limited to no access in the
areas identified as “sensitive.”
1Corresponding author. Email: jwynne@usgs.gov.
Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005 • 149
WYNNE AND PLEYTEZ
town of San Ignacio, this cave has two known entrances
(Figure 2). “Entrance 1” is a horizontal entrance situated at the
headwaters of an intermittent arroyo. “Entrance 2” is a vertical
entrance approximately 10 m deep. Lands within ~1.6 km of
Actun Chapat are used for cattle grazing and swidden agricul-
ture. Archaeological research activities have been conducted
within this cave since 1999 (C. Griffith, pers. comm.).
Currently, this cave is infrequently used as a show cave.
CAVE FAUNA TERMINOLOGY AND TAXONOMY
We divided Actun Chapat cave biota into six cavernicole
(cave dwelling organism) groups: troglobites, trogloxenes,
troglophiles, stygobites, epigeans and guanophiles. The fol-
lowing definitions of each cavernicole group were derived
from Culver and White (2005): (1) troglobites are character-
ized by no pigmentation, reduced eye development, elongated
appendages, and require cave ecosystems for their entire life
cycle; (2) trogloxenes spend a portion of their life cycle (e.g.,
hibernation, roosting, reproduction) in subterranean environ-
ments; (3) troglophiles are not obligate cave dwellers and may
complete their life cycle either in subterranean or hypogean
systems; (4) stygobites are aquatic species that spend their
entire life cycle in underground waters; (5) epigean species are
surface-dwelling organisms, but may occur as accidentals in
caves (usually within cave entrances); and, (6) guanophiles are
organisms that feed and/or reproduce in guano deposits, and
may occur as both troglobites and troglophiles. Current taxon-
omy was verified for all vertebrates and most invertebrates
using the Integrated Taxonomic Information System (ITIS;
http://www.itis.usda.gov). Because taxonomy for most troglo-
bites and stygobites is not yet available within the ITIS data-
base, we used the taxonomy as classified by Reddell (1981).
LITERATURE REVIEW
We reviewed published and unpublished literature to sum-
marize prior biological research at Actun Chapat. To obtain
additional information not available from the literature
review, we also contacted researchers who have conducted
field investigations in Belize.
2001 BASELINE INVENTORY METHODS
BAT SURVEY
We surveyed for bats both inside and outside the cave. For
four days, between 0900 hr and 1500 hr, we captured bats
inside the cave with handheld nets (sensu Arita, 1996). To min-
imize disturbance to bats, Wratten #27 red camera filters were
placed over the headlamp lights (Kunz, 1982). Dead bats
found within the cave were also identified. Bats near Entrance
2 were captured using mist nets (Kunz, 1982) for one night
from 1900 to 2330 hr. A net was placed below the vertical
entrance, which was the closest entrance to the Zotz Na
(Mayan for “bat house”), and the primary entrance used by the
colony. Because exiting bats may abandon their roosts after
capture (Kunz, 1982), we placed mist nets ~20 meters down-
slope from the cave entrance. While nets were open, three
technicians constantly monitored the nets. Captured bat
species were identified using a key developed by B. Miller
(Wildlife Conservation Society, Belize), sexed, aged, weighed,
evaluated for reproductive condition and photographed (sensu
Kunz, 1982).
INVERTEBRATE SURVEY
Invertebrates were surveyed within three primary cave
zones: (1) light zone, (2) twilight zone, and (3) dark zone. We
established three parallel transects within the cave; one along
each wall and one at the estimated centerline of the cave. To
Figure 1. Location of Actun Chapat in west-central Belize
situated along the northern extent of the Vaca Plateau.
Figure 2. Map of Actun Chapat depicting (a) the multiple
species maternity/nursery colony, (b) the subterranean
pool, (c) entrance 1, and (d) entrance 2.
150 • Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005
SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL AREAS AND SPECIES INVENTORY OF ACTUN CHAPAT CAV E , VACA PLATEAU, BELIZE
minimize impacts to invertebrate populations, species were
identified in the field when possible. We recorded descriptive
information on habitat and behavior for each species encoun-
tered. When invertebrates were collected for identification,
one to five individuals per species were collected. Due to dif-
ficulties with export permits, invertebrates were identified, to
the highest taxonomic level possible, using photographs and
field information collected on morphology, biomechanics and
habitat requirements. Information collected in the field was
cross-referenced with existing literature, voucher photos, and
consultations with taxonomic experts.
EPIGEAN VERTEBRATE SURVEY
We searched for epigean species using intuitive visual
searches (Crump and Scott, 1994). In the light and twilight
zones of both entrances, we searched for amphibians, reptiles,
mammals, and animal sign in areas containing breakdown,
within rock crevices and underneath rocks. All species encoun-
tered were visually identified or captured, identified and
released. Species were identified using a combination of avail-
able literature and local indigenous knowledge.
SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL AREAS
The majority of the cave was evaluated for ecologically
sensitive areas. We considered an area ecologically sensitive if
it contained sensitive, endangered or endemic species whose
persistence is likely to be threatened by human disturbance.
Due to the economic potential of the cave as a show cave, we
identified specific zones within the cave as sensitive rather
than providing an evaluation for the entire cave. These areas
are considered microhabitats specific to sensitive and/or poten-
tially endemic species.
RESULTS AND DISCUSSION
We identified 41 morphospecies in Actun Chapat (Table 1).
These included four troglobites, 13 trogloxenes (bats), 13
troglophiles, three stygobites and nine epigean morphotypes
(Table 2; Appendix 1). Of these taxa, three were tentatively
considered guanophiles.
We identified two sensitive ecological areas: (1) a multi-
species bat maternity/nursery roost and (2) a subterranean pool
containing stygobites and a semi-aquatic troglobitic crab
(Figure 2). The maternity/nursery roost is located below
Entrance 2, within a side passage of Actun Chapat and is
defined by three chambers, hereafter referred to as Zotz Na.
Chamber 1 contained approximately 15 roosting bats and con-
tains at least three Phyllostomid spp. The second chamber also
contained roosting bats. However, it was difficult to determine
if bats were roosting in this chamber or if they moved from
Chamber 3 into Chamber 2 due to our presence. A large mater-
nity/nursery colony is located in Chamber 3. This roost con-
tained two primary species: Natalus stramineus and
Mormoops megalophylla. In July 2001, we observed an esti-
mated 7 x3 m of cluster of hairless pups. This nursery colony
was located at the approximate center of Chamber 3.
Additionally, we identified two important sources of nutrient
input into the cave: (1) the multi-species bat roost, and (2) the
sinkhole entrance, known as Entrance 2.
The dearth of information on Belize cave biodiversity
underscores the need for a national effort to systematically
inventory cave biodiversity. Presented here is the first species
inventory of a Belizean cave. We identified 41 morphospecies
from a variety of systematic groups, including both vertebrate
and invertebrate species. Nineteen of these morphospecies
were cave-dependent. Also, our findings identified a multi-
species bat maternity/nursery roost, and a subterranean pool
containing stygobites and a troglobitic crab. Both of these
areas should be considered sensitive ecological resources.
Roosting bats are highly sensitive to human disturbance
(Mohr, 1972; Hall, 1994; Hamilton-Smith and Eberhard,
2000). To evaluate the importance of the bat roost, we applied
the conservation criteria derived from studies conducted by
Arita (1993, 1996). Arita suggests that high bat species diver-
sity and the presence of listed (threatened or endangered) or
rare species can be used to identify the conservation priority of
cave bat roosts. From a study of 36 caves in Yucatan, México,
Arita (1996) identified 22 caves (61%) with one to two
species, eight (22%) with three to five species and six (17%)
with seven to nine species. In México, Arita (1993) suggests
that roosts containing multiple species (> 6 species) should
receive special management consideration due to their “unusu-
ally high species richness.” Using this information, we devel-
oped a rank system, which identifies < 2 species as low diver-
sity, 3 to 5 species as medium and > 6 species as high diversi-
ty. Actun Chapat contains between 10 and 13 roosting bat
species (13 if considering the three unidentified individuals to
represent distinct species). Therefore, this cave satisfies our
high diversity criterion. There were no listed or rare species
identified within Actun Chapat. However, the M. megalophyl-
la colony is in decline, and is sensitive to disturbance.
Although we did not attempt to count this colony, it is consid-
ered the largest colony in Belize (B. Miller, pers. comm. 2003).
Because Mormoopid bats rarely form large colonies (>
100,000 individuals; Arita 1996) in Yucatan, this colony may
Table 1. Results of the 2001 survey and literature review
provided as a summary by cavernicole group.
Cavernicole Group 2001 Survey Literature Review Total
Troglobite 3 1a4
Trogloxene (bats) 8 5b13
Troglophile 12 1c 13
Stygobite 2 1 3
Epigean 9 - 9
Total 34 5 41
aTroglobite identified by Reddell and Veni (1996).
bBat species were inventoried during field research conducted by B. Miller
and C. Miller (pers. comm., 2004).
cPhotograph of epigean species was taken by D. Billings during a 2005 cave
survey expedition.
Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005 • 151
WYNNE AND PLEYTEZ
Table 2. Inventory list by cavernicole group of species identified at Actun Chapat. For undescribed invertebrate species,
closest taxonomic identification is provided (taxonomic level and common name are provided in parentheses).
Morphotype 2001 Survey B. Miller and C. Miller Reddell and Veni Elliott Billings
(unpublished data) (1996) (2000; pers. com., 2005) (2005)
TROGLOBITE
Paraphrynus sp./Paraphrynus raptator? * *
(whip scorpion)
Lithobius sp. (millipede) *
Coleopterea (Order; beetle)a*
Prostigmata (Suborder; mite) *
TROGLOXENE
Peropteryx macrotis *
Mormoops megalophylla ** *
Pteronotus parnellii *
Pteronotus personatus *
Pteronotus davyi *
Phyllostomid sp. *
Trachops cirrhosus *
Glossophaga sp. *
Glossophaga soricina **
Artibeus jamaicensis **
Natalus stramineus **
Myotis sp. *
Myotis elegans *
TROGLOPHILES
Gastropoda (Class; snail) *
Arachnida (Class; spider) *
Loxosceles sp. (recluse spider) * *
Diplopoda (Class; millipede) *
Littorophiloscia sp. (pillbug) *
Mayagryllus apterus?*
Coleoptera (Order; 3 beetle spp.)a*
Tenebrionid beetle (Zophobas sp.) *
Tineidae *
(Family; micro-lepidopteran moth)
Prostigmata (Suborder; 2 mite spp.) *
STYGOBITE
Macrobrachium catonium?* *
Typhlopseudothelphusa acanthochela *
Rhamdia guatamalensis?* **
EPIGEAN
Order Araneae (spider sp.) *
Citharacanthus meermani *
Centruroides gracilis *
Blaberus giganteus *
Blaberus discoidales *
Sphaeroceridae (Family; dung fly) *
Eleutherodactylus alfredi *
Lepidophyma flavimaculatum *
Lepidophyma mayae *
aSpecies tentatively considered guanophiles. For a complete inventory list by taxonomic order, refer to Appendix 1.
be unique to the Yucatan Peninsula. Thus, this cave meets one,
and potentially both, of these criteria.
Additionally, roosting bats are vitally important to cave
ecosystems because they transport organic matter from the
outside environment into a cave via guano. The presence of
bats and their guano in caves are considered vital to cave pro-
ductivity (Arita, 1996; Krajick, 2001) and may result in high
cavernicole species diversity, large biomass of organisms
(Harris, 1970), and endemism (Arita, 1996). Subsequently, if
bats abandon a cave, nutrient transport will be suspended, and
152 • Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005
SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL AREAS AND SPECIES INVENTORY OF ACTUN CHAPAT CAV E , VACA PLATEAU, BELIZE
the persistence of cave fauna may be in jeopardy (Nicholas,
1956). None of the cavernicole species identified within Actun
Chapat are considered imperiled, but many invertebrate
species identified are likely reliant upon the nutrient load pro-
vided by roosting bats. However, proper management of the
bat colony will likely insure persistence of other cavernicoles.
Subterranean pools and small watercourses are highly sen-
sitive due to the presence of distinctive and specialized stygo-
bites (Hamilton-Smith and Eberhard, 2000). Stygobites,
including salamanders, shrimp, crayfish, and crabs, are often
long-lived, have small population sizes and reproduce slowly
(Elliott, 2000; Krajick, 2001). Consequently, excessive distur-
bance to the stygobites in Actun Chapat may severely disrupt
population dynamics, so that the population trends towards
extirpation or perhaps extinction. However, we have no data to
quantify sensitivity thresholds at either an individual stygobite
or community level, nor have there been any efforts to devel-
op conservation management criteria for stygobites in either
southern México or northern Central America. Thus, we have
no comparative framework for assessing the sensitivity of the
two stygobite species and the semi-aquatic troglobitic crab, or
evaluating the conservation priority of this community.
If protection of biodiversity is a management priority for
this cave, the bat maternity/nursery roost and subterranean
pool should remain undisturbed. Because declines in roost
populations have been correlated to recreational caving activi-
ties as well as scientific investigations (Stebbings, 1971;
Brown and Berry, 1991; Carlson, 1991; Cockrum and
Petryszyn, 1991), the large multiple-species maternity/nursery
roost warrants high consideration as a management priority.
Activities perceived as minor, such as briefly entering a roost
area, or shining a light within a roost, may result in decreased
survivorship (McCracken, 1988) or permanent abandonment
(McCracken, 1988; Cockrum and Petryszyn, 1991) of the
roost. If this were to occur, the removal of the guano nutrient
input into Actun Chapat would likely have a negative cascad-
ing effect on the entire cave ecosystem. Also, no taxonomic
studies on the stygobites and troglobitic crabs have been con-
ducted. Therefore, we do not know if these species are endem-
ic to Actun Chapat. Similar species have been described from
nearby caves, so the Actun Chapat stygobites and troglobitic
crab may represent subpopulations. If this is the case, we do
not know the connectedness of these subpopulations to other
cave systems. If this pool is connected to other caves contain-
ing these species, immigration and emigration of individuals
between caves will likely be possible. Thus, persistence may
be driven by hydrologic connectedness to other populations in
nearby caves. Repopulation by new individuals to Actun
Chapat may then be possible. Conversely, if these species are
endemic, or this community is isolated and the potential for
repopulation is restricted, then this pool should receive special
management consideration. Because the population dynamics
of cave catfish, shrimp and crabs in Belize, and specifically
Actun Chapat, are unknown, we do not know the impacts on
these species of repeated or prolonged human disturbance.
Until endemism and/or the connectedness of this pool to other
caves are determined, and an understanding of population
dynamics of these taxa obtained, we recommend the subter-
ranean pool not be disturbed.
Although likely justified from a resource management per-
spective, we recognize identifying the entire cave as “no” or
“restricted” access will be highly controversial for the owner
and local community. Therefore, to provide some protection of
the sensitive ecological areas and the cave ecosystem as a
whole, we have identified an approach that may assist in the
management of these resources. Using a modified ranking sys-
tem developed by McCracken (1988, 1989), we divided the
cave into green, yellow and red zones. Green zones are open to
recreational and research activities. Yellow zones are quiet
zones for recreational cavers, and research activities should
occur only during certain times of the year. Red zones are off-
limits to recreational cavers and used by researchers only in
special cases.
We have delimited four suggested use zones within Actun
Chapat; two green, one yellow, and one red (Figure 3). Green
zone 1 extends from Entrance 1 to the entrance of the south-
trending passage (the passage containing Zotz Na and subter-
ranean pool). Green zone 2 extends from Entrance 2 to the
entrance of this passage. Although we have observed troglo-
bites and other cavernicoles throughout this passage, responsi-
ble recreational caving and research within these areas is con-
sidered a good compromise between affording some level of
protection to sensitive cave resources while supporting region-
al economic activities. Separating the two green zones is a yel-
low zone. Because this zone is approximately 100 meters from
the entrance to the Zotz Na passage, reducing visitant noise
levels while traversing this area will reduce disturbance to
bats. Establishment and use of a trail connecting Entrance 1
and Entrance 2 would further reduce impacts to cave biota.
From the southern edge of the yellow zone southward is a red
zone. This passage contains both sensitive ecological areas.
The northern edge of the red zone is approximately 100 m
from the passage containing the Zotz Na. Designating this
zone as off-limits to recreational cavers is highly recommend-
ed. Research activities within this zone should occur only if
determined necessary by IOA and Ministry of Natural
Resources, Forest Department (MNRFD). To safeguard the
persistence of this bat colony, research activities within both
yellow and red zones should proceed when the bat roost is least
susceptible to disturbance (i.e., after reproductive cycle of a
bat colony is complete), and under the direction of MNRFD.
A distinct contrast in nutrient loading exists between the
horizontal entrance (Entrance 1) and the vertical entrance
(Entrance 2). The configuration of the two entrances of Actun
Chapat (one a vertical sinkhole entrance and the other a hori-
zontal entrance), results in a chimney airflow effect (Tuttle and
Stevenson, 1978; Pflitsch and Piasecki, 2003; Stuckless and
Toomey, 2003). A chimney effect is characterized by seasonal
oscillating airflow driven by changes in ambient temperature.
During the winter, warmer internal air attempts to equilibrate
Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005 • 153
WYNNE AND PLEYTEZ
Figure 3.
Recommended
special use zones
within Actun
Chapat: Green
(responsible
use)–open year-
round to responsi-
ble recreational
caving and
research activities,
Yellow (limited
access)–quiet
zones for recre-
ational cavers
throughout the
year with research
activities permit-
ted after bat
breeding season,
and Red (restrict-
ed access)–no
access permitted
to recreational
cavers and access
to researchers
should be granted
only in special
cases.
with the cooler external air. As a result, warm air is expelled
through the chimney entrance and ambient air is inhaled
through the horizontal entrance. During the summer, a reverse
chimney effect occurs as cooler internal air is expelled through
the lower entrance as ambient air is inhaled through the chim-
ney. The intensity of this effect is driven largely by cave struc-
ture.
At Actun Chapat, this cave breathing activity appears quite
pronounced and may be more dramatic at the vertical entrance.
This is tentatively supported by the disproportionate amount of
nutrients found at the base of the vertical entrance compared to
the horizontal entrance. The nutrient rich-Entrance 2 is likely
driving species diversity and abundance. Entrance 1 is charac-
terized by extensive breakdown and cobbles with virtually no
organic material on the cave floor. Consequently, during our
surveys of this entrance, we did not identify any fauna.
Conversely, the cave floor below Entrance 2 contained a sub-
stantial amount of breakdown, leaf litter and other forest detri-
tus.
During our research in July 2001, the inflow of air into the
sinkhole entrance was so prominent, organisms passing over
the entrance were sucked into the cave. This phenomenon gave
rise to a myriad of insects flying continuously toward the sur-
face, yet trapped within the air column between the entrance
and the cave floor. Upon exhaustion, these insects would retire
to the cave floor where we observed Alfred’s rainfrog, two
lizard species, and several Arachnid species preying upon
them. The breakdown and forest detritus provides cover for
both predator and prey species with the strong downdraft
bringing detritus and organisms into the cave. Thus, cave
structure, the breathing activity, and the influx of nutrients is
supporting an ecosystem and potentially complex food web of
epigean species. Although we do not consider Entrance 2 a
sensitive ecological area, this entrance certainly warrants fur-
ther study due to the unique predator-prey relationships borne-
out by this chimney-effect breathing cave.
To date, this paper represents the first species inventory list
of a Belize cave. In general, most biological information of
Belize caves exists in the form of ad hoc invertebrate specimen
collections and/or limited studies of cave roosting bats. None
of this information has been synthesized to produce inventory
lists on a per cave basis. Furthermore, we encountered no stud-
ies addressing wildlife using cave entrances. Although we now
have a better understanding of Actun Chapat’s biodiversity,
ecological research in this cave system remains incomplete. To
develop a more comprehensive inventory list, a survey effort
consisting of extended duration sampling and sampling taxa
using multiple techniques should be undertaken. Also, the
epigean ecosystem at Entrance 2 offers a living laboratory for
studying predator-prey interactions within a unique system.
154 • Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005
SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL AREAS AND SPECIES INVENTORY OF ACTUN CHAPAT CAV E , VACA PLATEAU, BELIZE
These interactions and the cave-breathing phenomenon driving
this system should be probed further.
Systematic research to inventory cave biota will not ensure
the future of cave-obligate taxa. Currently, Belize has no leg-
islation or programs to manage cave systems or safeguard the
persistence of cavernicole populations. Delineating an entire
cave system or cave passages within a system as red, yellow or
green priority for conservation is only the first step. If land
managers wish to manage these delicate ecosystems within a
conservation paradigm, we propose the establishment of:
1. A ranking system to evaluate sensitivity for cave ecosys-
tems and karst hydrologic systems;
2. A framework for identifying cave ecosystems for potential
inclusion in the International Union for the Conservation of
Nature (IUCN) World Heritage Site programme;
3. A listing of cave ecosystems and karst hydrologic systems
targeted for restoration, and methods for cave restoration;
4. An education program to heighten awareness of Belizeans
and tourists regarding the importance and fragility of cave
ecosystems;
5. A training and certificate program for cave eco-tour com-
panies and guides; and,
6. A review process of international and regional cave
resource management documentation to obtain the infor-
mation necessary for drafting cave management protection
legislation.
Overall, the lack of information on Belize cave biodiversi-
ty and cave resource management programs underscores the
need for a national effort to address these issues. Belize has a
reputation for rich above ground biodiversity and innovative
wildlife conservation practices. An effort to gain a greater
understanding of Belize’s subterranean fauna while concomi-
tantly developing programs to manage cave ecosystems will
bolster knowledge of its natural history, likely lead to new
species discoveries, assist resource managers in identifying
caves of high conservation priority and potentially provide
managers with the infrastructure to manage these fragile sys-
tems.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
We wish to thank the Belize Institute of Archaeology and
Western Belize Regional Cave Project for their generous sup-
port throughout this project. We also thank the Chechem-Ha
Lodge for providing field facilities and accommodations. J.
Ascot, L. Berlin, B. Block, C. Chambers, C. Drost and K.
Thomas donated field equipment. Valuable assistance and sup-
port in the field was given by J. Brown, C. Griffith, O. Raul
Chi, S. Jacyna, and K. Whittenberg. Bats were handled by S.
Jacyna and K. Whittenberg. C. Griffith and C. Helmke devel-
oped and provided the base map of Actun Chapat, courtesy of
J. Awe and WBRCP. Thanks to D. Billings for providing
images of Actun Chapat fauna from a 2005 cave mapping
expedition. Also, thanks to C. Drost, J. Ove Rein, S. Peck, X.
Prous and J. Reddell for insightful discussions on inverte-
brates. D. Ashley, C. Drost, B. Elliott, D. Fenn, D. Gillikin, M.
Hansen, S. Jacyna, B. Miller, M. Santos, M. Sogge, and R.
Toomey offered constructive comments on previous versions
of this manuscript.
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APPENDIX 1 - ANNOTATED LIST OF ACTUN CHAPAT CAV E FAUNA
PHYLUM MOLLUSCA
Class Gastropoda (snails)
Order, genus and species undetermined. Troglophile? This
snail was observed within a chamber, which contained a
flowstone formation. This chamber was within the twilight
zone below Entrance 2. This species may be cave adapted.
PHYLUM ARTHROPODA
Class Malacostraca
Order Isopoda
Family Armadillidiidae (terrestrial isopods)
Littorophiloscia sp. Epigean. This pillbug was frequently
encountered within the breakdown beneath Entrance 2.
This species is not cave adapted.
Order Decapoda
Family Palaemonidae (shrimp)
Macrobrachium catonium (Hobbs and Hobbs 1995)?
Stygobite. This species was previously collected (Reddell
and Veni 1996). We captured two individuals, which may
represent the same species.
Family Pseudothelphusidae (crabs)
Typhlopseudothelphusa acanthochela (Hobbs 1986).
Troglobite. Reddell and Veni (1996) identified this species
within Actun Chapat.
Order Araneae
Family, genus and species undetermined. Epigean. This spider
was documented below the sinkhole entrance. This spider
was observed moving among the rocks and leaf-litter.
Family Theraphosidae (tarantula)
Citharacanthus meermani (Reichling & West 2000). Epigean.
This species was observed within the twilight and transi-
tion zone of the cave. This species is not cave adapted.
Family Salticidae?
Genus and species undetermined. Troglophile. This spider was
observed within the dark zone. It was observed perched on
a rock. This spider was difficult to capture, and was capa-
ble of hopping and moving rather fast. This species was
found deep within the dark zone and is presumed cave
adapted.
Family Loxoscelidae
Loxosceles sp.Troglophile. This spider had a tan cephalotho-
rax, gray abdomen, and red legs. It constructs condomini-
um complexes of webs. It was observed directly below
Entrance 1, the sinkhole. These haphazardly constructed
webs formed mats on the ground. Thirteen webs were
observed within a 1.5 by 5 meter area.
156 • Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005
SENSITIVE ECOLOGICAL AREAS AND SPECIES INVENTORY OF ACTUN CHAPAT CAV E , VACA PLATEAU, BELIZE
Order Amblypygida
Family Phrynidae
Paraphrynus sp. or Paraphrynus raptator (Pocock 1902).
Trogloxene. The giant tailless whip scorpion was observed
within the dark zone of the cave. This species is not cave
adapted.
Order Trombidiformes
Family, genus and species undetermined. Two troglophillic
mites. One species was found within the leaf litter below
the sinkhole entrance (Entrance 2). The second species was
a red-bodied mite, observed within the Zotz Na and within
a narrow passageway. The ground of both locations was
guano covered. Neither species is cave adapted.
Family, genus and species undetermined. One troglobite. One
species was observed within the dark zone and had no pig-
mentation. This species is cave adapted.
Order Scorpiones
Family Scorpionidae
Centruroides gracilis (Latreille 1804). Epigean. This species
was observed within the twilight and transition zone of the
cave. This species is not cave adapted.
CLASS Chilopoda (centipedes)
Order Lithobiomorpha
Family Lithobiidae
Lithobius sp. Troglobite. This cave adapted Lithobiid cen-
tipede was found within the dark zone of the cave. It was
observed within bat guano. This species is tentatively con-
sidered a guanophile.
CLASS Diplopoda (millipeds)
Order, family, genus and species undetermined. Troglophile.
This species was observed throughout the all light-zones of the
cave. This species occurs in high densities throughout all light
zones, and is presumably the namesake for the cave. Its body
is black and orange striped with red legs and feet. When dis-
turbed, this species coils into a disk. This species is not cave-
adapted.
CLASS Insecta
Order Blattaria
Family Blaberidae (giant cockroaches)
Blaberus giganteus (Linnaeus 1758). Epigean. This species
was observed within the light zone of Entrance 2. This
species was not cave adapted.
Blaberus discoidalis (Serville 1839). Epigean. This species
was observed within the light zone of Entrance 2 beneath
the leaf litter. Three individuals, 3–5 cm in length, were
observed within the leaf litter. This species is not cave
adapted.
Order Orthoptera
Family Phalangopsidae (cave crickets)
Mayagryllus apterus (Grandcolas and Hubbell 1994)?
Troglophile. This species was observed within the twilight
and dark zones of the cave. Elliott (pers. com. 2005) also
observed this species during his 1992-93 research. During
his research, he observed this species feeding on bat guano.
This species is tentatively listed as a troglophile, but may
be epigean.
Order Coleoptera
Family Tenebrionidae
Zophobas sp. Troglophile. This species frequently scavenges
on guano and bat carcasses in tropical caves (S. Peck, pers.
com. 2005). This species was photographed by D. Billings
(2005) and tentatively identified by S. Peck (Carleton
University, Ottawa, Canada). This species is not cave
adapted.
Family, genus and species undetermined. Three troglophiles.
Two beetle species were observed within the light zone
beneath the leaf litter of Entrance 2. One species was
observed within the dark zone of the main cave passage
from Entrance 2. Neither species is cave adapted.
Family, genus and species undetermined. Troglobite. One
species was observed burrowing into a circular pile of bat
guano. This species is presumed to be a cave-adapted
guanophile.
Order Lepidoptera
Family Tineidae
Genus and species undetermined. Troglophile? This species
was observed within the Chamber 3, Zotz Na. It had a
silken cocoon, which formed a protective shell, and it
emerged partially from one end to feed. It formed a carpet
layer over the guano. W. Pleytez aptly described the ground
as “being completely alive” with this species. This species
is tentatively considered a guanophile.
Order Diptera
Family Sphaeroceridae (dung fly)
Genus and species undetermined. Epigean. This species was
observed within the dark zone. It was dark gray in color
with red eyes. This species is not expected to be cave
adapted.
PHYLUM CHORDATA
Class Actinopterygii
Order Siluriformes
Family Pimelodidae (catfish)
Rhamdia guatemalensis (Günther 1864)? Stygobite. This
species was captured with a handheld net from the subter-
ranean pool within the cave’s dark zone. This species has
no pigmentation and reduced eye development. Reddell
and Veni (1996) and Elliott (pers. com. 2005) also identi-
fied this species. Elliott (pers. com. 2005) had this species
Journal of Cave and Karst Studies, December 2005 • 157
WYNNE AND PLEYTEZ
tentatively identified by researchers at the Texas Memorial
Museum, Austin. This catfish is a cave-adapted species.
Class Mammalia
Order Chiroptera (Bats)
Family Emballonuridae
Peropteryx macrotis (Wagner 1843; Lesser Dog-like Bat).
Trogloxene. This species was documented by B. Miller and
C. Miller (unpublished data).
Family Mormoopidae
Mormoops megalophylla (Peters 1864; Ghost-faced bat).
Trogloxene. We captured this species both within Zotz Na
and in mist nets outside the cave. B. Miller and C. Miller
(unpublished data) also documented this species.
Pteronotus parnellii (Gray 1843; Parnell’s mustached bat).
Trogloxene. We captured this species within Chamber 1,
Zotz Na and in the mist nets below Entrance 2. B. Miller
and C. Miller (unpublished data) also documented this
species.
Pteronotus personatus (Wagner 1843; Wagner’s mustached
bat). Trogloxene. This species was documented by B.
Miller and C. Miller (unpublished data).
Pteronotus davyi (Gray 1838; Davy’s naked-backed bat).
Trogloxene. This species was documented by B. Miller and
C. Miller (unpublished data).
Family Phyllostomidae
Phyllostomid sp. Trogloxene. One unidentified Phyllostomid
species was captured in the mist nets below Entrance 2.
Trachops cirrhosus (Spix 1823; fringe-lipped bat).
Trogloxene. We captured this species within a cylindrical
recess in the cave ceiling of Chamber 1, Zotz Na.
Glossophaga sp. Trogloxene. In 1992 and 1993, Elliott (2000)
documented individuals to genus level within Actun
Chapat.
Glossophaga soricina (Pallas 1766; Pallas’s long-tongued
bat). Trogloxene. We captured this species within Chamber
1 of the Zotz Na.
Artibeus jamaicensis (Leach 1821; Jamaican fruit-eating bat).
Trogloxene. One individual was captured with a handheld
net. It was roosting with two other individuals (possibly
females) within a cylindrical recess in the cave ceiling of
Chamber 1, Zotz Na. Once this species was captured the
bats apparently abandoned this roost. In 1992 and 1993,
Elliott (2000) also documented this species within the cave.
Family Natalidae
Natalus stramineus (Pallas 1766; Mexican funnel-eared bat).
Trogloxene. We observed this bat within all chambers of
the Zotz Na. However, it was only observed roosting with-
in Chamber 3, where it is the dominant species of the large
maternity roost. B. Miller and C. Miller (unpublished data)
also documented this species.
Family Vespertilionidae
Myotis sp. Trogloxene? One unidentified Myotis species was
captured in the mist nets below Entrance 2.
Myotis elegans (Hall 1962; elegant myotis). Trogloxene. This
species was documented by B. Miller and C. Miller
(unpublished data).
Class Amphibia
Order Anura
Family Leptodactylidae
Eleutherodactylus alfredi (Boulenger 1898; Alfredo’s rain-
frog). Epigean. We captured this frog within the breakdown
beneath Entrance 2. This species is not cave adapted and is
considered epigean.
Class Reptilia
Order Squamata
Family Xantusiidae
Lepidophyma flavimaculatum (Duméril 1851; yellow-spotted
night lizard). Epigean. We observed this species in the
breakdown beneath Entrance 2. We observed one lizard
capture and consume a wasp. This species is not cave
adapted.
Lepidophyma mayae (Maya night lizard). Epigean. We
observed this lizard in the breakdown beneath Entrance 2.
This species is not cave adapted.
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... Namun demikian atraksi yang ditawarkan masih terbatas pada sisi estetik dan belum memperhatikan aspek keilmuan. Dalam pengelolaan dan pengembangan obyek wisata gua perlu diperhatikan faktor kelestarian dan pengamanan gua beserta ekosistem di dalamnya (Worosuprojo, 1996), dimana ekosistem dalam gua sangat rentan terhadap kerusakan terutama oleh karena pengaruh manusia (Wynne dan Pleytez, 2005). Untuk itu selain aspek estetik seyogyanya aspek keilmuan juga ditingkatkan sehingga wisatawan selain dapat menikmati keindahan gua juga memahami berbagai fenomena yang dijumpai. ...
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