The caves of Illinois' sinkhole plain are the sole habitat of the Illinois Cave amphipod (Gammarus acherondytes), a federally endangered species. The sinkhole plain is a hydrologically-connected sequence of karstified limestone that constitutes an extensive karst aquifer which serves as an important source of potable water for area residents. During this investigation, we examined the ground-water quality in caves within two ground-water basins: 1) Illinois Caverns, where the amphipod is now present after previously reported to have been extirpated from the lower reaches, and 2) Stemler Cave, where the amphipod is reported to have been extirpated. The chemical composition of cave streams in Illinois Caverns and Stemler Cave were compared to determine which parameters, if any, could have contributed to the loss of G. acherondytes from Stemler Cave. Stream water in Stemler Cave contained higher concentrations of organic carbon, potassium, silica, chloride, fluoride, sulfate, iron and manganese than Illinois Caverns. Perhaps most importantly, dissolved oxygen (DO) concentrations in Stemler Cave were, during periods of low flow, substantially lower than in Illinois Caverns. Based on land use, there are probably at least eight times more private septic systems in the Stemler Cave ground-water basin than in the Illinois Caverns ground-water basin. Low DO concentrations were likely the result of microbial breakdown of soil organic matter and wastewater treatment system effluent, and the oxidation of pyrite in bedrock. The near-hypoxic DO in Stemler Cave that occurred during low-flow conditions, and, we speculate, a limited range of G. acherondytes within the Stemler Cave ground-water basin due to a metabolic advantage of the stygophilic aquatic invertebrates over the stygobitic G. acherodytes, resulted in the apparent loss of G. acherondytes from Stemler Cave.
Additional publication details
Potential effects of recurrent low oxygen conditions on the Illinois Cave amphipod