Cave and karst systems are important to our nation for numerous reasons. Groundwater comprises the largest single freshwater resource, and about 25% of this groundwater is located in cave and karst regions. The protection and management of these vital water resources are critical to both public health and sustainable economic development. Water resources and supplies are a critical concern as society enters the twenty-first century.
Caves are also storehouses of information on natural resources, human history, and evolution. Therefore, many avenues of research can be pursued in caves. Recent studies indicate that caves contain valuable data that are relevant to global climate change, waste disposal, groundwater supply and contamination, petroleum recovery, and biomedical investigations. Caves also contain data that are pertinent to anthropologic, archaeological, geologic, paleontological, and mineralogic discoveries and resources.
Many researchers have turned to caves as natural laboratories where over eons paleoclimatic evidence has been naturally deposited and is awaiting discovery. For example, recent discoveries in Manhole Cave in New Mexico raised scientific interest in the possibilities of gaining further insight into global climate change following analyses of materials found in this cave.
Many caves act as natural traps for flora and fauna. Paleontological excavations in caves have yielded the discovery new species of extinct animals such as a mountain goat and a bush oxen related to the present day musk ox (Ovibus moschatus). These finds add to the knowledge of paleo-fauna and aid in the understanding global climate change.
Cave and karst lands provide specialized habitats and environments. Animal species living in caves have special adaptations that help them survive in total darkness, such as extreme longevity and enhanced sensory perceptions. The adaptations reveal much about the evolutionary responses to past environmental changes and may provide valuable clues to current climate change.