The deep subterranean environment as a model system in ecological, biogeographical and evolutionary research
Sánchez-Fernández, D., Rizzo, V., Bourdeau, C., Cieslak, A., Comas, J., Faille, A., Fresneda, J., Lleopart, E., Millán, A., Montes, A., Pallares, S., Ribera, I.
One of the main challenges in ecology, biogeography and evolution is to understand and predict how species may respond to environmental changes. Here we focus on the deep subterranean environment, a system that minimizes most of the typical uncertainties of studies on epigean (surface) environments. Caves are relatively homogeneous habitats with nearly constant environmental conditions and simplified biological communities, allowing to control for biotic interactions. Thus, this particular system could be considered a natural habitat whose environmental conditions are similar to what can be reproduced in a laboratory, being an ideal model system for ecological, biogeographical and evolutionary studies. Subterranean species may potentially be used to assess the capability to persist in situ in a global change scenario, as they cannot accommodate to drastic changing conditions by behavioural plasticity, microhabitat use or by migrating to distant, more suitable areas, something frequent in epigean environments. In order to provide accurate predictions of the response of the subterranean biodiversity to climate change, we encourage evolutionary biologist, biogeographers and conservation biologist to work in this interesting ecosystem.