Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department


Major Professor

Philip Reeder, Ph.D.


Karst, Cave survey, Karst stewardship, Environmental degradation, Vulnerability indexing, Geographic Information Systems


Active cave management, which represents any continuous action to conserve, restore, or protect a cave environment, is virtually non-existent in west-central Florida. This study focuses on developing an inventory to rank terrestrial caves in west-central Florida by management priority. A GIS-based cave inventory system, including a cave sensitivity index and cave disturbance index, were used as a tool to gain an understanding of the management priority of west-central Florida caves. The inventory was applied to 36 terrestrial caves in west-central Florida, which demonstrated a wide range of sensitivity and disturbance. The results show that by relying solely on sensitivity and disturbance scores, management priority may not be accurately determined. Further examination revealed that ownership and management status also affect management priority. Consequently, cave sensitivity, disturbance, ownership, or management status does not solely indicate management priority. Rather, the management priority of caves in west-central Florida depends on a number of complicated, interwoven factors, and the goal of management must be examined holistically. Each cave must be individually examined for its sensitivity, disturbance, resources, management, and social and physical context in order to gain an understanding of management priority. Nonetheless, the cave inventory system developed for this project was used to gain a general understanding of which caves hold management priority, based on the cave manager's objectives. In order to ensure the conservation and protection of west-central Florida terrestrial caves, support from county or state government, combined with cave inventory data, is crucial in developing sound management policy.