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Caves are but one 'exciting laboratory' for new species

Talking with BBC Nature reporter Matt Bardo about the possibility of a new species of swimming cave cricket recently discovered in a remote Venezuelan tepui, entomologist Quentin Wheeler noted that “places like small islands and mountain tops and caves are really new exciting laboratories of genetic experimentation.”

Wheeler, director of ASU's International Institute for Species Exploration, explained in an Aug. 5 news story one way new species develop: “Caves tend to be very isolated so when some adventurous … organism finds its way into the cave, the populations there typically do not come into contact with populations in other caves or the above-ground ancestors that they came from. Any time that you get small in-breeding populations, you can have speciation occur far more rapidly than large populations that are interbreeding with more regularity.”

Bardo’s story also notes that it was a film crew that recently discovered the swimming cave cricket species, which is yet to be named. The BBC Nature feature also included this year’s list of top 10 new species that was announced in May by the International Institute for Species Exploration.

Wheeler is the Virginia M. Ullman Professor of Natural History and the Environment with ASU’s School of Sustainability and School of Life Sciences. He also is a senior sustainability scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability.