Disturbance relicts in a rapidly changing world: The rapa nui (Easter Island) factor

J. Judson Wynne, Ernest C. Bernard, Francis G. Howarth, Stefan Sommer, Felipe N. Soto-Adames, Stefano Taiti, Edward L. Mockford, Mark Horrocks, Lázaro Pakarati, Victoria Pakarati-Hotus

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Caves are considered buffered environments in terms of their ability to sustain near-constant microclimatic conditions. However, cave entrance environments are expected to respond rapidly to changing conditions on the surface. Our study documents an assemblage of endemic arthropods that have persisted in Rapa Nui caves, despite a catastrophic ecological shift, overgrazing, and surface ecosystems dominated by invasive species. We discovered eight previously unknown endemic species now restricted to caves - a large contribution to the island's natural history, given its severely depauperate native fauna. Two additional species, identified from a small number of South Pacific islands, probably arrived with early Polynesian colonizers. All of these animals are considered disturbance relicts - species whose distributions are now limited to areas that experienced minimal historical human disturbance. Extinction debts and the interaction of global climate change and invasive species are likely to present an uncertain future for these endemic cavernicoles.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)711-718
Number of pages8
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2014


  • Caves
  • Disturbance relict hypothesis
  • Ecological shifts
  • Endemic species
  • Fern-moss gardens

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Agricultural and Biological Sciences


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