Lava Tube Biodiversity and Evolution

Discovering cave life in the world’s longest and most remote lava tubes

Arthropods have diversified and adapted to cave environments formed by lava tubes across the world, including the Hawaiian Islands. In pursuit of documenting poorly samples areas of the Tree of Life, we have assembled a diverse team of researchers to investigate the biodiversity, ecology, and evolution of lava tube ecosystems on the Big Island of Hawai’i. Over the last several years, we have surveyed across the many different lava tube communities to examine patterns of evolution and diversification of insect communities.

Across the Hawaiian Islands, lava tubes harbor interesting arthropod community assemblages, constrained in age broadly by initial island formation and specifically by particular periods of volcanic activity. Thus, the Hawaiian Islands offer unparalleled opportunities for ecological studies in a well-defined evolutionary context. Specifically, Hawai’i Island has the highest concentration of lava tube habitats, spanning a range of elevation gradients, and supports over 45 different obligate, cave-adapted invertebrate species! This amazing amount of diversity highlights significant knowledge gaps, including about cave biodiversity and distribution, evolutionary processes operating in these systems,  and surface-subsurface connections and processes that operate in these caves. 

HICAVES Research Team

Funding Support

Cave Conservancy Foundation (to M.L. Porter & the Slays), as “Biodiversity, Biogeography, and Conservation of Unique Hawaiian Island Cave Communities”