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Discovery of new cave millipedes casts light on Arizona cave ecology

A new genus of millipede was recently discovered by a Northern Arizona University doctoral student and a Bureau of Land Management researcher.

J. Judson Wynne, with the Department of Biological Sciences at NAU and cave research scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey's Southwest Biological Center, and Kyle Voyles, Arizona State Cave Coordinator for the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), collected specimens leading to the discovery of two new millipede species in caves on opposite sides of the Grand Canyon.

Wynne and Voyles, known for their cave research, also discovered a new genus of cricket last spring.

"We knew the millipedes likely represented two distinct species because the two populations were separated by the Grand Canyon," Wynne said. "The fact these two species belong to an entirely new genus was a great surprise to us."

Wynne said these eyeless albino millipedes are "essentially living fossils" and provide researchers with another piece of the puzzle needed to better understand cave ecosystems.

He explained that during the last Ice Age, when northern Arizona was warmer and wetter, millipedes lived in leaf litter. As the climate warmed, they sought refuge in caves, where the subterranean realm provides more constant climatic conditions enabling their survival.

Representing two distinct species (one occurring in one cave on the South Rim, the other in two caves on the North Rim of Grand Canyon), this new genus of cave-limited millipede has been confirmed by Bill Shear, a leading millipede expert at Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia.

"Western U.S. caves have not been at all well explored for examples of cave life" Shear said. "We can expect more new species from the ongoing work at Northern Arizona University."

This new genus was confirmed by analysis of the eighth pair of legs (or gonopods) on the male specimens. Gonopods are highly modified legs used to transfer spermat
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Source:Northern Arizona University


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