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The discovery of the anchialine habitats is ascribing to Riedl (1966) who called them "Randhoelen" or "marginal caves". Later on, Holthuis (1973), describing particular shrimps from some salt water pools from Indo-west Pacific localities, named the above habitats "anchihaline pools". In the following years numerous authors (Iliffe, 1991, Yager, 1994; Stock, 1994; Juberthie & Decu, 1994; Sket, 1996) pointed attention to such characteristic biotopes, giving them other, different names: "inland marine caves", "sea water-flooded caves", "anchiaaline cave waters", "anchihaline habitats", "metahaline anchialine pools", "grottes de dissolution".

At present, these habitats, according to the resolution from the International Congress of Marine Cave Biology held in Bermuda during 1984, are definitively defined as water bodies with no surface connection with the sea, with a wide range of different salinities and showing the following subterranean features:

Horizontal salinity and O2 zonation
Relative lack of food
Limited accessibility for marine fauna
Presence of stygomorphic organisms

For the most part anchiahaline conditions developed on the islands or continental media, probably pending plio-pleistocenic sea regressions. Anchialine organisms, as a rule, originated directly from sea waters ancestors, but at present their non subterranean marine relatives do not exist or they inhabit some unfavourable, extreme habitats; only a few taxa colonized the anchihaline systems from limnic inland conditions.

As regard the origin of the anchialine stygobiontes, two main hypotheses are at present known: the "deep sea hypothesis" (Iliffe a. o., 1984) and the "shallow water hypothesis" (Stock, 1986; Danielopol, 1990).According to the former most anchialine immigrants evolved from deep sea water ancestors; on the contrary, the latter support a shallow, coastal waters origin for most anchialine colonizers.

The most remarkable italian anchialine systems can be found along the Tuscanian tirrenian coast (Punta degli Stretti cave), Apulian sea, adriatic and ionian coasts (caves between S. Cesarea Terme and Castro Marina: Zinzuluza, Buco dei Diavoli, L'Abisso and phreatic habitats in wells), north east adriatic coast, Sicily, Sardinia and north west Tirrenian coast.

Anchialine waters of Italy are very densely populated, for the most part by crustaceans, water mites and oligochaetes: the mesohaline habitats are almost exclusively characterized by the genera Pseudoniphargus, Microcharon, Monodella, Spelaomysis, Typhlocaris, Halicyclops, Neocyclops, Schizopera ; oligohaline and limnic habitats are dominated by the genera Hadzia, Stygiomysis, Orniphargus, Salentinella and Diacyclops.

Similar faunistic conditions are characteristic to the anchialine areas of the adriatic balkanic coasts.

[Distribution of the main anchialine areas of Italy]


Anchialine Fauna of the Zinzulusa Cave
Anchialine Fauna of the "L'Abisso" Cave
Anchialine Fauna of the "Buco dei Diavoli" Cave
Anchialine Fauna of phreatic systems

The anchialine fauna of Apulia as a whole originated through different waves of immigrants. One wave, at present represented by some tetidian relicts (Higginsia ciccaresei, Monodella stygicola, Stygiomysis hydruntina, Typhlocaris salentina), adapted to fresh water systems in the past and successfully inland dispersed; another one (Spelaeomysis bottazzii, Salentinella angelieri, Salentinella gracillima) followed the shift of the coast lines of the Mediterranean pending the Pleistocene; some other taxa (Diacyclops antrincola, Hadzia minuta), whose distribution seem to be limited to coastal havbitats, most likely originated following the Miocene "salinity crisis" of the Mediterranean. At last, some harpacticoid copepods, such as Esola spelaea, Schizopera clandestina, Schizopera cicolanii, Psyllocamptus monacus, are to be considered marine immigrants more recently adapted, after preadaptation in litoral karstic systems, according to the "Two-step model" of colonization (Coineau & Boutin).


  • First record of Superornatiremidae (Copepoda: Harpacticoida) from Mediterranean waters
  • Dr. Thomas Iliffe Publications
  • Cave Biology and Hydrology
  • Critically Endangered Anchialine Cave Species
  • Rocha's Home Page
  • "Bringing to light" anchialine cave ecology


    Stock, J.H., T.M. Iliffe and D. Williams (1986). The concept "anchialine" reconsidered. Stygologia, 2:90-92.
    Sket, B. and T.M. Iliffe (1980). Cave fauna of Bermuda. Internationale Revue der gesamten Hydrobiologie, 65:871-882.
    Iliffe, T.M. (1986). The zonation model for the evolution of aquatic faunas in anchialine waters. Stygologia, 2:2-9.
    Wilkens, H., J. Parzefall and T.M. Iliffe (1986). Origin and age of the marine stygofauna of Lanzarote, Canary Islands. Mitteilungen aus dem Hamburgischen Zoologischen Museum und Institut, 83:223-230
    Iliffe, T.M. (1987). Observations on the biology and geology of anchialine caves. In: Proceedings of the Third Symposium on the Geology of the Bahamas, CCFL Bahamian Field Station, H.A. Curran, ed., pp. 73-80
    Iliffe, T.M. and.S. Sarbu (1990). Anchialine caves and cave fauna of the South Pacific. NSS News, 48:88-96.
    Iliffe, T.M. (1991). Anchialine cave fauna of the Galapagos Islands. In: Galapagos Marine Invertebrates, M.J. James, ed., Plenum Press, New York, p. 209-231.
    Iliffe, T.M. (1992). Anchialine Cave Biology. In: The Natural History of Biospeleology, A.I. Camacho, ed., Museo Nacional de Ciencias Naturales, Madrid, pp. 613-636.
    Iliffe, T.M. (1992). Troglobitic anchialine and freshwater cave fauna of Quintana Roo, Mexico. Pp. 197-215 in: Diversidad Biologica en la Reserva de la Biosfera de Sian Ka'an, Quintana Roo, Mexico, Vol. II, D. Navarro and E. Suarez-Morales, eds., Centro de Investigaciones de Quintana Roo, Chetumal, Q.R., Mexico, 382 pp.

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