In addition to the acquisition and dedication of State Nature Preserves, the Division of Natural Areas and Preserves is charged with administering Ohio’s Cave Law (ORC 1517.22-.99). The Division is responsible for identifying and protecting Ohio’s Caves.
Beginning in 2007, the Division initiated a multi-year survey of Ohio’s cave resources. Funded by a grant from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Division staff partnered with Wittenberg University Speleological Society, headed by Dr. Horton Hobbs of Wittenberg University. Division staff, volunteers, and students surveyed Ohio’s caves during the summer field seasons from 2007 through 2010.
While the definition of caves differs, they typically share these three characteristics:
- Permanent absence of light
- Receive inputs of carbon (food) from outside sources (There are no primary producers such as green plants).
- Maintain relatively constant temperature and humidity
In total, the cave survey identified 400 caves; 211 in carbonate bedrock and 189 in non-carbonate bedrock. Caves that have formed in limestone and dolomite bedrock are located in western Ohio. Non-carbonate caves, including rock shelters and recesses, are the common cave type in eastern Ohio.
The survey placed special emphasis on the identification of all living organisms found within each cave. Typical cave fauna discovered include types of planaria, spiders, isopods, beetles, pseudoscorpions, and bats. In total, 261 species of invertebrates and invertebrates were found to utilize Ohio’s caves. Twenty of these species are considered obligate cavernicoles- meaning they are entirely dependent upon the cave environment.
Although Ohio’s caves may be few in number and relatively small compared to other states, these features have important geological, biological, and archaeological values that are worth preserving. While Ohio’s caves are fascinating, mysterious resources, they are fragile ecosystems that are best left to be explored by experts.