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Concept: Cave


The Rising Star cave system has produced abundant fossil hominin remains within the Dinaledi Chamber, representing a minimum of 15 individuals attributed to Homo naledi. Further exploration led to the discovery of hominin material, now comprising 131 hominin specimens, within a second chamber, the Lesedi Chamber. The Lesedi Chamber is far separated from the Dinaledi Chamber within the Rising Star cave system, and represents a second depositional context for hominin remains. In each of three collection areas within the Lesedi Chamber, diagnostic skeletal material allows a clear attribution to H. naledi. Both adult and immature material is present. The hominin remains represent at least three individuals based upon duplication of elements, but more individuals are likely present based upon the spatial context. The most significant specimen is the near-complete cranium of a large individual, designated LES1, with an endocranial volume of approximately 610 ml and associated postcranial remains. The Lesedi Chamber skeletal sample extends our knowledge of the morphology and variation of H. naledi, and evidence of H. naledi from both recovery localities shows a consistent pattern of differentiation from other hominin species.

Concepts: Sample, DNA, Human, Individual, Cave, Specimen, Cave Automatic Virtual Environment, The Rising


Population surveys and species recognition for roosting bats are either based on capture, sight or optical-mechanical count methods. However, these methods are intrusive, are tedious and, at best, provide only statistical estimations. Here, we demonstrated the successful use of a terrestrial Light Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) laser scanner for remotely identifying and determining the exact population of roosting bats in caves. LIDAR accurately captured the 3D features of the roosting bats and their spatial distribution patterns in minimal light. The high-resolution model of the cave enabled an exact count of the visibly differentiated Hipposideros larvatus and their roosting pattern within the 3D topology of the cave. We anticipate that the development of LIDAR will open up new research possibilities by allowing researchers to study roosting behaviour within the topographical context of a cave’s internal surface, thus facilitating rigorous quantitative characterisations of cave roosting behaviour.

Concepts: Mathematics, Optics, Light, Laser, Cave, 3D scanner, LIDAR, Bathymetry


Interest in forecasting impacts of climate change have heightened attention in recent decades to how animals respond to variation in climate and weather patterns. One difficulty in determining animal response to climate variation is lack of long-term datasets that record animal behaviors over decadal scales. We used radar observations from the national NEXRAD network of Doppler weather radars to measure how group behavior in a colonially-roosting bat species responded to annual variation in climate and daily variation in weather over the past 11 years. Brazilian free-tailed bats (Tadarida brasiliensis) form dense aggregations in cave roosts in Texas. These bats emerge from caves daily to forage at high altitudes, which makes them detectable with Doppler weather radars. Timing of emergence in bats is often viewed as an adaptive trade-off between emerging early and risking predation or increased competition and emerging late which restricts foraging opportunities. We used timing of emergence from five maternity colonies of Brazilian free-tailed bats in south-central Texas during the peak lactation period (15 June-15 July) to determine whether emergence behavior was associated with summer drought conditions and daily temperatures. Bats emerged significantly earlier during years with extreme drought conditions than during moist years. Bats emerged later on days with high surface temperatures in both dry and moist years, but there was no relationship between surface temperatures and timing of emergence in summers with normal moisture levels. We conclude that emergence behavior is a flexible animal response to climate and weather conditions and may be a useful indicator for monitoring animal response to long-term shifts in climate.

Concepts: Weather, Emergence, Climate change, Meteorology, Cave, Radar, Mexican Free-tailed Bat, Weather radar


The extent and nature of symbolic behavior among Neandertals are obscure. Although evidence for Neandertal body ornamentation has been proposed, all cave painting has been attributed to modern humans. Here we present dating results for three sites in Spain that show that cave art emerged in Iberia substantially earlier than previously thought. Uranium-thorium (U-Th) dates on carbonate crusts overlying paintings provide minimum ages for a red linear motif in La Pasiega (Cantabria), a hand stencil in Maltravieso (Extremadura), and red-painted speleothems in Ardales (Andalucía). Collectively, these results show that cave art in Iberia is older than 64.8 thousand years (ka). This cave art is the earliest dated so far and predates, by at least 20 ka, the arrival of modern humans in Europe, which implies Neandertal authorship.

Concepts: Human, Iberian Peninsula, Spain, Neanderthal, Cave, Painting, Cave painting, Cantabria


Preceramic human skeletal remains preserved in submerged caves near Tulum in the Mexican state of Quintana Roo, Mexico, reveal conflicting results regarding 14C dating. Here we use U-series techniques for dating a stalagmite overgrowing the pelvis of a human skeleton discovered in the submerged Chan Hol cave. The oldest closed system U/Th age comes from around 21 mm above the pelvis defining the terminus ante quem for the pelvis to 11311±370 y BP. However, the skeleton might be considerable older, probably as old as 13 ky BP as indicated by the speleothem stable isotope data. The Chan Hol individual confirms a late Pleistocene settling of Mesoamerica and represents one of the oldest human osteological remains in America.

Concepts: United States, Mexico, Cave, Human skeleton, Skeleton, Mexico City, Speleothem, Quintana Roo


Very little is known about Neanderthal cultures, particularly early ones. Other than lithic implements and exceptional bone tools, very few artefacts have been preserved. While those that do remain include red and black pigments and burial sites, these indications of modernity are extremely sparse and few have been precisely dated, thus greatly limiting our knowledge of these predecessors of modern humans. Here we report the dating of annular constructions made of broken stalagmites found deep in Bruniquel Cave in southwest France. The regular geometry of the stalagmite circles, the arrangement of broken stalagmites and several traces of fire demonstrate the anthropogenic origin of these constructions. Uranium-series dating of stalagmite regrowths on the structures and on burnt bone, combined with the dating of stalagmite tips in the structures, give a reliable and replicated age of 176.5 thousand years (±2.1 thousand years), making these edifices among the oldest known well-dated constructions made by humans. Their presence at 336 metres from the entrance of the cave indicates that humans from this period had already mastered the underground environment, which can be considered a major step in human modernity.

Concepts: Human, Natural environment, Hierarchy, Neanderthal, Cave, Speleothem, Stalagmite, Stalactite


The genus Troglocladius Andersen, Baranov et Hagenlund, gen. n. is erected based on T. hajdi Andersen, Baranov et Hagenlund, sp. n. collected at 980 m depth in the Lukina jama-Trojama cave system in Croatia. Morphological features such as pale color, strongly reduced eyes and very long legs make it a typical cave animal. Surprisingly, it has also retained large wings and appears to be capable of flight which would make T. hajdi the first flying troglobiont worldwide, disproving previous beliefs that bats are the only animals capable of flying in complete darkness. Morphologically the new species does not readily fit within any described genus, but shares characteristics with genera both in the tribes “Metriocnemini” and “Orthocladiini”. Bayesian molecular phylogenetic analysis using the markers COI, 18S rDNAs, 28S rDNA, CADI, and CADIV groups it with the genera Tvetenia, Cardiocladius and Eukiefferiella in the tribe “Metriocnemini”. Troglocladius hajdi may be parthenogenetic, as only females were collected. The discovery confirms the position of the Dinaric arch as a highly important hotspot of subterranean biodiversity.

Concepts: Biology, Organism, Species, Order, Cave, Chironomidae, Croatia, Orthocladiinae


Soils in permafrost regions contain twice as much carbon as the atmosphere, and permafrost has an important influence of the natural and built environment at high northern latitudes. The response of permafrost to warming climate is uncertain and occurs on time scales longer than has been assessed by direct observation. In this study, we date periods of speleothem growth in a north-south transect of caves in Siberia to reconstruct the history of permafrost in past climate states. Speleothem growth is restricted to full interglacial conditions in all studied caves. In the northernmost cave (at 60°N), no growth has occurred since Marine Isotopic Stage (MIS) 11. Growth at that time indicates that global climates only slightly warmer than today are sufficient to thaw significant regions of permafrost.

Concepts: Earth, Precipitation, Climate, Atmosphere, Cave, Taiga, Speleothem, Permafrost


Few studies document plants in caves. Our field observations of a widespread and seemingly angiosperm-rich cave flora in SW China lead us to test the following hypotheses, 1) SW China caves contain a diverse vascular plant flora, 2) that this is a relic of a largely absent forest type lacking endemic species, and 3) that the light environment plants occupy in caves is not distinct from non-cave habitats. To do so we surveyed 61 caves and used species accumulation curves (SAC) to estimate the total diversity of this flora and used a subsample of 14 caves to characterise the light environment. We used regional floras and existing conservation assessments to evaluate the conservation value of this flora. We used observations on human disturbance within caves to evaluate anthropogenic activities. Four-hundred-and-eighteen vascular plant species were documented with SACs predicting a total diversity of 529-846. Ninety-three percent of the species documented are known karst forest species, 7% are endemic to caves and 81% of the species are angiosperms. We demonstrate that the light environment in caves is distinct to that of terrestrial habitats and that a subset of the flora likely grow in the lowest light levels documented for vascularised plants. Our results suggest that the proportion of species threatened with extinction is like that for the terrestrial habitat and that almost half of the entrance caverns sampled showed signs of human disturbance. We believe that this is the first time that such an extensive sample of cave flora has been undertaken and that such a diverse vascular plant flora has been observed in caves which we predict occurs elsewhere in SE Asia. We argue that the cave flora is an extension of the karst forest understory present prior to catastrophic deforestation in the 20thC. We suggest that within SW China caves serve as both refuges and a valuable source of germplasm for the restoration of karst forest. We also propose that caves represent a distinct habitat for plants that is most similar to that of the forest understory, but distinct with respect to the absence of trees, leaf litter, root mats, higher levels of atmospheric CO2, and lower diurnal and annual variation in temperature and humidity. We highlight tourism, agriculture and the absence of legislated protection of caves as the main current threats to this flora.

Concepts: Scientific method, Biodiversity, Plant, Vascular plant, Fern, Cave, Flora, Madagascar dry deciduous forests


In 1993, a fossil hominin skeleton was discovered in the karst caves of Lamalunga, near Altamura, in southern Italy. Despite the fact that this specimen represents one of the most extraordinary hominin specimens ever found in Europe, for the last two decades our knowledge of it has been based purely on the documented on-site observations. Recently, the retrieval from the cave of a fragment of bone (part of the right scapula) allowed the first dating of the individual, the quantitative analysis of a diagnostic morphological feature, and a preliminary paleogenetic characterization of this hominin skeleton from Altamura. Overall, the results concur in indicating that it belongs to the hypodigm of Homo neanderthalensis, with some phenetic peculiarities that appear consistent with a chronology ranging from 172 ± 15 ka to 130.1 ± 1.9 ka. Thus, the skeleton from Altamura represents the most ancient Neanderthal from which endogenous DNA has ever been extracted.

Concepts: Human, Neanderthal, Cave, Human evolution, Gibraltar, Sinkhole, Kebara Cave, Altamura Man