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Disturbance relicts in a rapidly changing world: The Rapa Nui (Easter Island) factor

by Mark Horrocks last modified 2014-08-20 01:02 PM

Wynne JJ, Bernard EC, Howarth FG, Sommer S, Soto-Adames FN, Taiti S, Mockford EL, Horrocks M, Pakarati L, Pakarati-Hotus V. 2014. BioScience 64, 711-718.


Caves are considered buffered environments in terms of their ability to sustain near constant microclimatic conditions. However, cave entrance environments are expected to respond more quickly to changing conditions on the surface. Our study documents an assemblage of endemic arthropods that have persisted in Rapa Nui caves despite at least two catastrophic ecological shifts and surface ecosystems dominated by invasive species.

We discovered eight previously unknown endemic species now restricted to caves – a large contribution to the island’s natural history, given its severely depauperate native fauna. Two additional species, identified from a small number of South Pacific islands, likely arrived with early Polynesian colonizers. All of these animals are considered “disturbance relicts;” species whose distributions are now limited to areas that experienced minimal human disturbance historically – caves. Extinction debts and the interaction of global climate change and invasive species are likely to present an uncertain future for these endemic cavernicoles.


Disturbance relicts, disturbance relict hypothesis, ecological shifts, moss-fern gardens, endemic species, Easter Island, Rapa Nui.

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