Research Spotlight: Ecological patterns in anchialine caves    

Fernando Calderon-Gutierrez

Fernando Calderon-Gutierrez conducting a biological survey in an anchialine cave.

Can you imagine being in a dark, narrow cave, thousands of feet from the entrance? Or being in a cavern that is completely flooded?  Well, this is what Fernando Calderón-Gutiérrez, a Ph.D. student here at Texas A&M University at Galveston, loves doing.  He scuba-dives into anchialine caves (coastal caves flooded with seawater) in his native Mexico to study the creatures living inside; which tell stories of the formation and connectivity of these places.

Have you ever been in a place so dark that you need a flashlight just to see your hands?  Or in a narrow space were you have to crawl to just move? Working in these caves is extremely difficult and dangerous, so it is not surprising that they are the most understudied ecosystem in today's world. These caves are inhabited by a diverse array of previously unknown animal species, which are crucial to study in order to understand and educate the public on the past and present of these hidden ecosystems.

Cenote El Aerolito

Cenote El Aerolito, Yucatan Peninsula, Mexico

Fernando’s work is producing its first results, recently publishing the paper: “Ecological patterns in anchialine caves” in the journal PloS one along with his collaborators in Mexico, Carlos A. Sánchez-Ortiz and Leonardo Huato-Soberanis. In this work, he exposes the results of working in two pairs of anchialine caves with similar geomorphological features located in Cozumel, Mexico through non-invasive visual surveys.  By comparing biotic and abiotic parameters of these caverns, he was able to report the high risk of extinction of organisms living inside these caves, thus requiring “... the necessity of ad hoc conservation strategies for anchialine caves.”

Fernando will continue working with his mentor, Dr. Tom Iliffe, in underwater research and with TAMUG’s diving program to explore and study the caves he love.


Stalactites seen on the roofs of the cave formed from calcium salts and dripping water

Copidaster cavernicola

Copidaster cavernicola an Echinoderm found in the anchialine caves of Cozumel, Mexico

Reticulated Brittle Star

Reticulated Brittle Star (Ophionereis reticulata