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Wildlife and Habitat

CaveFish_512x219This region of the Ozark Plateau includes an old forest dominated by oak, hickory and white ash trees.

Within the forest, Ozark big-eared bats maneuver precisely, quickly and effortlessly. Gliding through open tunnels created by an interwoven canopy, the bats silently stalk a plentiful supply of moths and other insects. Just below the canopy, flowering dogwood and redbud trees and strawberry bushes offer a place to rest, nest and feed for many migratory birds, including red eyed vireo, scarlet tanager, Northern parula, and black and white warbler. Fires periodically cleanse the forest floor by consuming invasive plants. These fires leave the old blackjack and post oak trees scarred but the burned materials release many rich nutrients into the soil priming it for new growth. Soon after, grasses and wildflowers sprout and give color to the blackened landscape.

The karst landscape is also marked by rocky outcroppings and cliffs where salamanders and snakes lie protected under stones and box turtles graze on May apples. Below the surface, carved by water and time, an underground labyrinth is home to a myriad of species living in dark passages hidden and undisturbed. The key geologic feature common throughout the Ozark Plateau is the karst geological formations.

These karst formations are a bedrock of limestone and chert deposited in shallow inland seas million years ago. Since limestone can be dissolved by runoff, underground caverns and streams, sinkholes, and other formations typical of karst areas have formed over millions of years.

It is the karst caves and sinkholes that have created the distinctive cave environments that support diverse and unique animal communities. Colonies of bats expertly navigate the maze of caves and tunnels, areas to raise their young and hibernate in the winter. In their wake, the bats deposit guano, essential energy. The fresh guano is teeming with larvae of flies and beetles, a future source of food for the bat colony and other species living in this lightless world.

Karst formations also catch surface runoff easily. These waters collect underground, some of which resurface as natural seeps or springs. The clear, clean underground streams and pools are home to colorless cave fish and crayfish that move about leisurely, as well as orange and black salamanders that quickly scurry about.

Many of the plant and animal species found here are not only specific to the Ozark Plateau but some, because of their isolated environment, are unique to the specific cave or spring in which they are found.
 

Learn More 

Gray bat 

Indiana bat 

Ozark cavefish 

Page Photo Credits — Ozark cavefish / Dante Fenolio ©
Last Updated: Feb 27, 2013
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