Thursday, January 3, 2013

Book Review: Cave Life of the Virginias

The Biology Section of the National Speleological Society recently published Cave Life of the Virginias: A Field Guide to Commonly Encountered Species in June 2012 written by Drs. Daniel W. Fong, Megan L. Porter, and Michael E. Slay. To my knowledge, this work represents the first field guide on subterranean life of eastern North America that can actually be taken underground and can hold up to the wear and tear of caving. The 42 spiral-bound pages are laminated and the book is perfectly sized to fit into a cave pack.

Cave Life of the Virginias highlights species that are commonly observed in Appalachian caves of Virginia and West Virginia to help cavers identify these unique animals. The beginning of the book briefly discusses caves as important habitats for many species, cave zones inhabited by wildlife, and the ecological classification of cave organisms. The twenty species accounts are organized into three groups based on where particular are most frequently encountered: the entrance zone, transition zone, and dark zone. Each species or species complex (e.g., cave millipedes) is illustrated with a photograph and often with a silhouette image (for species that are small) representing the actual size of the organism. For species or species complexes that occur in the dark zone, distribution maps are provided. Species accounts provide detailed information on the appearance, coloration, and other distinguishing features to assist in identification. Additional information on natural history and conservation is also provided. The final five pages of the book are devoted to avenues to seek additional information about the species highlighted, including books, journal articles, and websites.

Cave Life of the Virginias is written for a general audience with some knowledge of biology (i.e., the average caver). Perhaps its best feature are the high quality photographs taken by several cave biologists that begin each species account, including some species that are quite small (<5 mm). While this book won't allow you to identify most cave organisms to species (which often requires dissection for many groups), Cave Life of the Virginias can be used to quickly determine a springtail from a dipluran or an isopod from an amphipod.

I highly recommend that anyone with even a slight interest in caving and cave life purchase Cave Life of the Virginias. The book is very affordable at $16 US and can be purchased from the NSS Bookstore or from Speleobooks. Proceeds generated from sales are used toward the publication of additional field guides in the series.

Funding for Cave Life of the Virginias was provided by the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias (administered by Karst Waters Institute). Cave Life of the Virginias is the first of a series of cave life field guides of the United States. Future titles will highlight subterranean biodiversity of TAG and the Ozarks.

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