Epikarst is not only an important component of the hydrogeology of karst and an active site of speleogenesis, it is habitat for a number of species adapted to subterranean life. Water in epikarst, with a residence time of days to months, is a highly heterogeneous habitat, and the animals are primarily sampled from continuously sampling dripping water or collecting from residual drip pools. While the subterranean fauna of cracks and crevices has been known for over 100 years, it is only in the past several decades that epikarst has been recognized as a distinct habitat, with reproducing populations of stygobionts. Dissolved organic carbon in epikarst drip water is a primary and sometimes the only source of organic matter for underlying caves, especially if there are not sinking streams that enter the cave. Typical concentrations of organic carbon are 1 mg L-1. The fauna of epikarst is dominated by copepods, but other groups, including some terrestrial taxa, are important in some areas. Most of the diversity is β-diversity (between drips and between caves). In Slovenia, an average of nearly 9 stygobiotic copepod species were found per cave. In studies in Romania and Slovenia, a number of factors have been found to be important in determining species distribution, including ceiling thickness, habitat connectivity and habitat size. In addition to eye and pigment loss, epikarst copepod species may show a number of specialization for life in epikarst, including adaptations to avoid displacement by water flow. Several geoscientists and biologists have challenged the uniqueness and importance of epikarst, but on balance the concept is valid and useful. Fruitful future research directions include development of better sampling techniques, studies to explain differences among nearby epikarst communities, phylogeographic studies, and assessing the possible role of copepods as tracers of vadose water.
Pipan, Tanja and David Culver.
Forty Years of Epikarst: What Biology Have We Learned?.
International Journal of Speleology,
Available at: http://scholarcommons.usf.edu/ijs/vol42/iss3/5