The NSS Bulletin - ISSN 1090-6924
Volume 57 Number 2: 91-98 - December 1995

A publication of the National Speleological Society

A Subterranean Chemoauthotrophically Based Ecosystem
Serban M. Sarbu and Thomas C. Kane


An unusual invertebrate fauna has recently been discovered in Dobrogea, southern Romania. This fauna inhabits the deep recesses of an extensive cave system that has been isolated from the surface for several million years. The numerous species discovered in the cave, most of them previously undescribed, live in an atmosphere that is very poor in oxygen and very rich in carbon dioxide. The most peculiar characteristic of this ecosystem is that it derives its energy from the oxidation of hydrogen sulfide present in the thermal waters that flood the lower level of the cave. Microbial mats consisting of fungi and chemoautotrophic bacteria occur on the walls of the cave and are also found floating on the surface of the sulfidic water in the cave. This appears to be the first known subterranean ecosystem that is completely chemoautotrophically based. In this regard it shares much in common with the deep sea vent communities discovered in the 1970s.

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