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
- Rebecca A. Chong (School of Life Sciences, University of Hawai’i Mānoa)
- Megan L. Porter (School of Life Sciences, University of Hawai’i Mānoa)
- Annette S. Engel (Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, University of Tennessee at Knoxville)
- Christy Melhart Slay (The Sustainability Consortium, University of Arkansas)
- Mike Slay (Ozark Karst Program, The Nature Conservancy)
National Science Foundation (2022-2026) “Collaborative Research: Bridging the Space-Time Continuum to Investigate How Biodiversity Scales Across Subterranean Systems” awarded to Chong and Porter (DEB-2204670) and Engel (DEB-2204671).
Cave Conservancy Foundation (2018-2020), “Biodiversity, Biogeography, and Conservation of Unique Hawaiian Island Cave Communities”. (PIs ML Porter, M Slay, and CM Slay)
Research in the News
- UH News (3/20/22): $1.29M grant to study lava tube biodiversity on Hawaiʻi Island
- Hawaii Herald Tribune (3/20/22): Beneath the surface: $1.29M grant funding study of lava tube ecosystems
- Maui Now (3/20/22): $1.29M grant awarded to UH to study lava tube biodiversity in Hawaiʻi
- Big Island Now (3/21/22): $1.29M Grant to Study Lava Tube Biodiversity on Hawaiʻi Island (audio and video)
- West Hawaii Today (3/21/22): Beneath the surface: $1.29M grant funding study of lava tube ecosystems
Research in the Media
- Article in Geographical Magazine (July 2022)
- Interview on The Conversation on Hawaii Public Radio (March 2022)
- Featured sequence in Nature PBS Living Volcanoes (Feb 2019)
Related Presentations and Publications from the Group
Chong RA, Steck M, and Porter ML. (2022) Complete mitochondrial genomes and phylogenetic analysis of the Hawaiian planthoppers Iolania perkinsi and Oliarus cf. filicicola (Hemiptera: Cixiidae). Mitochondrial DNA Part B, 7:6, 1015-1017, DOI:10.1080/23802359.2022.2080596
Chong RA. Hawaiian lava tube biology and evolution along the space-time continuum. Evolution Conference. Cleveland, OH, June 24-28 2022.
Chong RA. Subterranean Biodiversity and foodweb complexity on the Island of Hawaiʻi: Insights into the evolution and diversification of cave-adapted arthropods. Evolution Virtual Conference. June 21-25 2021.
Porter, M.L., Chong, R.A., Steck, M., Engel, S., Hudson, A., Gracanin, T., Hackell, V., Bosted, P., Slay, C.M., Slay, M.E., Engel, A.S. (2020) Subterranean biodiversity and food web complexity on the Island of Hawai’i. Hawai’i Conservation Conference, Honolulu, HI. August 31 – Sept 3, 2020.
Chong, R.A., Steck, M., Engel, S., Hudson, A., Gracanin, T., Hackell, V., Bosted, P., Slay, C.M., Slay, M.E., Engel, A.S., Porter, M.L. (2020) Subterranean biodiversity on the Island of Hawai’i: Insights into the evolution and diversification of cave-adapted planthoppers. Hawai’i Conservation Conference, Honolulu, HI. August 31 – Sept 3, 2020.
Engel, A.S., Porter, M.L., Chong, R.A., Steck, M., Slay, M.E., Slay, C.M. (2019) Complexity within subterranean food webs sustained by deep roots in lava tubes, Hawai’i. International Society for Environmental Biogeochemistry, Potsdam, Germany, Sept 23 – 27, 2019.
Engel, S.A., Slay, M.E., Slay, C.M., Porter, M.L., Chong, R.A., Gracanin, T., Hackell, V., Bosted, P., Engel, A.S. (2019) Surveying, science, and conservation in the world’ longest lava tubes. National Speleological Society convention, Cookeville, TN, Program Guide, pg 105.
Slay, M.E., Porter, M.L., Slay, C., Engel, A.S. (2018) Preliminary results from a survey of lava tube caves in the southwest region of the Ka’ū district of the Big Island, Hawai’i. 24th International Conference on Subterranean Biology, 20-24 August 2018, ARPHA Conference Abstracts 1: e29874. https://doi.org/10.3897/aca.1.e29874