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Biological Values

Forest productivity – Karst ecosystems are commonly more productive than similar forest sites on non-karst terrain. This increased productivity can be largely attributed to the well-drained soils and nutrient cycling associated with karst.

Plant and animal habitats – Karst ecosystems often support unusual or rare plant and animal species, both on the surface and underground. Here are some examples:

  • Some ferns and mosses require a limestone substrate on which to grow and other fern species have adapted to growing in the cool, moist twilight conditions of cave entrances.
  • Elk and deer use cave entrances during summer for bedding down because the air from caves is cooler, and also during the winter when cave air is generally warmer than surrounding temperatures.
  • Trogloxenes utilize caves. For example, bats use caves for roosting and hibernation.
  • Troglobites are creatures that live permanently underground, beyond the daylight zone of caves, and cannot survive outside the cave environment. In BC, some troglobites survived the last ice age in subsurface cavities and caves. The Stygobromus quatsinensis is a rare freshwater crustacean found in underground pools in caves on Vancouver Island.
  • Troglophiles, such as some species of salamanders, spiders and crickets, can utilize karst features for habitat.
  • Troglobites, troglophiles, and trogloxenes can be highly susceptible to even minor disturbances in their environment.

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Adult coho salmon in Vancouver Island cave  

Fisheries – It has been found that karst can contribute to high fish productivity because:

  • The leaching of calcium carbonate from carbonate bedrock buffers acidic streams.
  • Cool karst groundwater can help stabilize stream temperatures.
  • The storage capacity of karst systems helps even out seasonal flows.
  • Karst streams are richer in nutrients and aquatic insect populations.
  • Karst stream systems can provide more protective sites for fish to rest, breed and avoid predators.

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