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A Condensed History of Biospeleology in Yucatan

last updated 01 December, 2002

Expeditions in 1932 and 1936 from the Carnegie Institution of Washington marked the first serious attempts to study the cave fauna of the Yucatan Peninsula. Of 306 species collected from cenotes and dry caves, only 28 species were considered troglobitic (Pearse, 1936, 1938). Between 1973 and 1975, Texas Tech University fielded the first systematic search for troglobites which encompassed each state of the peninsula (Yucatan, Campeche, and Quintana Roo). These expeditions documented a total of 34 troglobites, of which 11 are considered aquatic (Reddell, 1977). Cave diving explorations in Quintana Roo and Yucatan were initiated in the early 1980's: these investigations have since unveiled 26 new aquatic species of cave fauna. Eight of these species are known only from mainland coastal caves near the town of Tulum Pueblo (Yager, 1987; Iliffe, 1992; Kallmeyer and Carpenter, 1996; Escobar-Briones et al., 1997; Rocha et al., 1998; Rocha et al., 2000). Presently, there are 37 described species of aquatic troglobites (stygobites) from the caves of Quintana Roo, Mexico. These include 35 species of Crustaceans from seven orders and two species of fish from two vertebrate orders.

Stygobitic populations are customary inhabitants in many Caribbean anchialine caves. However yet the geology, hydrology, and nutrient cycles are quite elaborate on the Yucatan Peninsula - perhaps more elaborate than in other Caribbean regions. Many speleologists surmise that additional obligate underwater cave species (stygobites) will be reported in the imminent future by underwater speleologists. This author is cognizant of two undescribed stygobites comprising two species of Crustaceans from two orders. In a recent meeting of the Texas Academy of Science (1999), he summarized the first record of two Cnidarian species (Phylum Cnidaria, Class Hydrozoa, Hydra sp.) from an anchialine cave in Quintana Roo. Although common to many freshwater streams and lakes, Hydra sp. has never been reported to inhabit or complete its life history in an anchialine cave environment. It is doubtful that both species of Hydra are obligate cave species.

Investigations into this fascinating aspect of anchialine biology continues today with such workers as Javier Alcocer, Elva Escobar-Briones, Maria Elena Camacho, Jerry Carpenter, Tom Iliffe, Jill Yager, and a host of others.  


Escobar-Briones, E., M. E. Camacho, and J. Alcocer. 1997. Calliasmata nohochi, new species (Decapoda: Caridea: Hippolytidae), from anchialine cave systems in continental Quintana Roo, Mexico. J. Crust. Bio.17(4):733-744.

Iliffe, T. M. 1992. An annotated list of the troglobitic anchialine and freshwater fauna of Quintana Roo. In D. Navarro and E. Suarez, eds. Diversidad Biologica en la Reserva de la Biosfera de Sian Ka'an Quintana Roo, Mexico. Commision Nacional para la Biodiversidad y CIGRO, Mexico 2:197-215.

Kallmeyer, D. E., and J. Carpenter. 1996. Stygiomysis cokei, new species, a troglobitic mysid from Quintana Roo, Mexico (Mysidacea: Stygiomysidae). J. Crust. Bio. 16(2):418-427.

Navarro-Mendoza, M. 1988.Inventario ictico y estudios ecologicos preliminares en los cuerpos de agua continentales en la reserva de la Biosfera de Sian Ka'an y areas circunvecinas en Quintana Roo, Mexico. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Tech. Rep. PCECCNA-00823.

Pearse, A. S., E. P. Creaser, and F. G. Hall, et al.. 1936. The Cenotes of Yucatan. A Zoological and Hydrographic survey. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 457:1-304.

--------, et al. 1938. Fauna of the Caves of Yucatan. Carnegie Institution of Washington Publication 491:1-304.

Rocha, C.E.F., T.M. Iliffe, J.W. Reid, and E. Suarez-Morales. 1998.  A new species of Halicyclops (Copepoda: Cyclopoida, Cyclopidae) from cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico, with an identification key for the species of the genus from the Caribbean region and adjacent areas. Sarsia, 83:387-399.

Rocha, C.E.F., T.M. Iliffe, J.W. Reid, and E. Suarez-Morales.  2000. Prehendocyclops a new genus of the subfamily Halicyclopinae (Copepoda: Cyclopoida, Cyclopidae) from cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Sarsia, 85:119-140.

Reddell, J. A. 1977. A preliminary survey of the caves of the Yucatan Peninsula. Pages 215-296 in James Reddell, ed. Studies on the Caves and Cave Fauna of the Yucatan Peninsula. Association for Mexican Cave Studies Bulletin 6:215–296.

Yager, J. 1987. Speleonectes tulumensis, n. Sp. (Crustacea, Remipedia) from two anchialine cenotes of the Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico. Stygologia 3:160-166.


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