Biologic inventory is a survey of cave animals in their native habitat. This aspect of
speleology requires some knowledge, and probably a bit of direction, but hardly a degree in
biology. This is just a large term for cave critter observation and counting. You do need to be able
to tell an isopod from an amphipod, but no dissection is required (or even permitted.)
Amazingly, there have not been extensive, statewide studies made of most cave animals.
Endangered bats, cavefish and a few other species have been widely reported on, usually by
people affiliated with the Missouri Department of Conservation, who have the necessary permits
to seek endangered or threatened species. Invertebrate Fauna from Missouri Caves and
Springs by James E. Gardner is a fairly comprehensive 20 year old study of invertebrates. Dr.
Michael Sutton and associates have done more recent work, and Dr. Bill Elliott, MDC cave biologist, is compiling a statewide cave biodiversity database. For many years, Dr. David Ashley has conducted cave invertebrate ecology studies. Many academics have studied
the fauna of this cave or that species.
Dr. Dave Ashley with a "critter trap"
But a comprehensive overview of cave life in this state does not yet exist, and more work is needed. As recently as 1999, a species of cave crawfish new to science was discovered here, and undoubtably other undescribed species exist in there.
Missouri Western State College students doing Bioinventory in a dark cave
What does it take? Mainly an observant eye, a notebook and pencil, and some way to key the
animals--that is, to know which is which.
When you go caving:
Count and identify cave animals you see. Note numbers of adults and young, if that applies.
Avoid disturbing hibernating bats, or bats with young.
Record where and under what conditions you see them--in the water, among leaf litter, and
Identify only those who know. It is better to call a bat "one of a myotine species" than to
identify it as a Myotis lucifugus unless you are sure.
Work with biologists from a local university or one of the state agencies. These people are
usually interested in working with serious amateurs in exchange for the data you can
Observe state laws, and do not harrass, injure or collect the animals. If such collection
becomes necessary for identification, get the proper permits before you do so.
Above all, share your information. Whether you write a paper or book yourself, or
contribute to the work of others, data sitting only in your filing cabinet or on diskette is not yet
science until it is shared.
And send a copy of your work to the MSS Cave Files. If, after talking to other knowledgeable cavers, you think you have found something unique, people in the MSS can put you in touch with the biology experts who would love to take a look at it. (Still living in the cave, of course!)