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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, July 20, 2006

Cave dwellers gain protection

Associated Press

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A Final Recovery Plan by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service aims to raise awareness about the existence of the Kaua'i cave amphipod, top, and the cave wolf spider, above, both eyeless species that were found in 1971.

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Tiny, small in numbers and totally blind, the Kaua'i cave wolf spider and amphipod are both scheduled to be rescued from the edge of extinction with a new plan issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

The service yesterday announced that the Final Recovery Plan for the Kaua'i Cave Arthropods is now available to the public.

"These unique and highly specialized species are often overshadowed by Hawai'i's charismatic species, such as the green sea turtle, Hawaiian monk seal and others, but deserve just as much attention, if not more," said Patrick Leonard, field supervisor for the Fish and Wildlife Service's Pacific Islands Fish and Wildlife Office.

The new plan will ensure the recovery of the species and raise awareness about their existence, he said.

Both species are eyeless and were unknown until their discovery in 1971.

Little is still known about the quarter-sized wolf spiders, which live in the lava tubes and cave-bearing rock in Kaua'i's Koloa Basin. Their population is estimated to possibly be fewer than 30. The spiders hunt by sensing chemical compounds.

Ranging in size up to nearly a half-inch, the Kaua'i cave amphipod is a landhopper that resembles a shrimp. The amphipod feeds on plant materials and is believed to be a food source of the Kaua'i cave wolf spider. Surveys indicate the rare insect's numbers are anywhere between eight and 300.

The priority of the recovery plan is to protect and restore the species' cave habitats.

To protect the caves, the report recommends controlling access and halting the introduction of nonnative species and contamination by pollutants.

The plan also recommends encouraging the growth of appropriate plants above the caves to increase the food source for the amphipods and the relative humidity of the caves. Cave-dwelling species appear to require high humidity, possibly as much as 100 percent.