The Subterranean Ecology Institute, Inc. (SEI) is working hard to play an active role in several research projects, both in a leadership role and as a partner with other individuals, non-profits, and governments. Here are our current projects:
SEI is leading an effort to study subterranean ecosystems in Belize. Through annual expeditions, we are working with the Belizean government and local ecotourism guides and organizations to enhance management practices, with new attention focused on subterranean ecosystems. Our 2011 & 2012 Belize expeditions have resulted in the discovery of several new species.
Working with guides and ecotourism organizations to better understand the importance of subterranean ecosystems, we hope to provide the local communties with useful information about relationships between land use practices and cave and groundwater resources. We are also working closely with cooperating government agencies, including the Belizean Institute of Archeology and the Forestry Department. As this knowledge is transferred to government agencies and local guides, opportunities exist to transfer knowledge about subterranean ecosystems and groundwater to the visiting eco-tourists.
Watch a slide show about our 2011 expedition - click on show, to the left of this text. Final reports for our 2011 Expediton (10.52 MB) and for our 2012 Expedition (15.5 MB) are both available for downloading. The 9-19 January 2014 expedition was a great success, and an expedition report will be forthcoming.
If you have questions about our Belize project, or would like to provide a donation in support of this work, just email us!
We are providing assistance to a collaborative effort led by another Illinois nonprofit, Clifftop, with involvement of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, to enhance existing man-made subterranean habitat in a manner which invites use by federally listed bats and native cave invertebrates in an Illinois mine. Toward this effort, we donated data loggers to monitor temperature and humidity. Knowledge gained through this work will be shared with the public through presentations, and will inform best management practices for similar habitats.
Late in 2013 the Subterranean Ecology Institute made a financial contribution to Clifftop towards the purchase of 535 acres of farmland, sinkhole ponds, and woodlands overlaying significant portions of Fogelpole Cave, Illinois largest and most biologically diverse cave ecosystem. Ongoing work on this project will include restoration, monitoring, education and outreach efforts. For more details, see the announcement on Clifftop's website.
We continue to build relationships with other organizations, agencies, and individuals within the state of Illinois (where SEI is incorporated), leading to activities that will enhance karst resource management and educate the public about our fragile subterranean ecosystems.
The Subterranean Ecology Institute is administering a grants from the Cave Conservancy Foundation and the Cave Conservancy of the Virginias awarded to cave biologists Megan L. Porter (University of Hawaii at Manoa & NSS Biology Section Chair), Michael E. Slay (The Nature Conservancy) and Matthew L. Niemiller (University of Illinois). These projects, focusing on the Virginias and the Ozarks, are part of a long-term effort by the Stygobromus Working Group to complete conservation assessments for all North American species of the groundwater amphipod genus Stygobromus. These grants support fieldwork to collect and preserve specimens and tissue samples for morphological and molecular systematic studies, enabling the group to assess conservation status for Stygobromus species in the Ozarks, Virginias, and surrounding areas, identifying priority species, populations, and habitats. This information will be invaluable in setting conservation priorities and guiding management decisions.
Current studies of Ecuadorian caves, karst, and pseudokarst, including lava tubes in the Galapagos Islands, are being carried out in collaboration with the Department of Earth Sciences and Construction (DECTC) at the Escuela Politécnica del Ejército (ESPE) (Sangolquí, Ecuador), the Sociedad Espeleológica Científica Ecuatoriana (Ecuadorian Scientific Speleological Society - ECUCAVE), researchers at Washington University (St. Louis, Missouri), and researchers at the University of Illinois (Champaign-Urbana, Illinois). Using donations, we plan to provide minor financial support for fieldwork costs relating to these collaborations. Though details remain to be worked out, this work will include new bioninventories of under-studied cave systems. Knowledge gained pertaining to subterranean ecosystems will help the government of Ecuador better manage these fragile and globally significant resources. Further, these data will provide information useful both by Ecuadorian government, NGOs (such as The Charles Darwin Foundation), and local entrepreneurs, by providing images and information about ecosystems which can be passed on to visiting tourists to enhance their experience and, hopefully, increase the likelihood that some will bring new insights back to their home countries.