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Schedule of the project

Objective 1.
Mapping habitat diversity and availability

Field survey will be carried out for the selection of caves and epigean station (situated in the proximity of the caves) that will be investigated. The main type of epigean habitats and their predominance will be inventoried.

Characterization of habitat parameters
Different types of caves (e.g. fossil and mix) located in the Mehedinti Plateau Geopark (MPG) will be selected for study. Epigean stations will cover different types of habitats and degrees of human impact to count for landscape heterogeneity. Each habitat will be characterized by local (e.g. air and soil temperature, type of habitat for epigean habitat and type of cave, air temperature and humidity, food resources for caves) and landscape variables (e.g. habitat use in the surrounding area of caves). In addition, concentration of potentially toxic metals (Cu, Zn, Hg) will be measured in cave fauna, soil and leaf litter.
Almost 40% of the harvestmen species inventoried in Romania occur in the MPG. Ten species occur in the caves located in MPG but only two of them are considerate troglophilous (Paranemastoma silli and Holoscotolemon jaqueti) (Avram & Dumitrescu, 1969). Pitfall trapping and Winkler extractor or quadrat sampling in epigean habitats and active search method in caves will be used for harvestmen sampling.

Information gathered: Ii) Inventory of harvestmen and of the habitat they use; ii) Harvestmen community structure in different types of habitats.

Assess selectivity in habitat use
Information-theoretic approach will be used to identify appropriate models for predicting the occurrence of individual species and species richness. This approach allows creating a large number of independent models, selecting the “best” model and ranking the remaining models. The variables measured at each site will be used to build a priori models to test their predictive power on i) the occurrence of the individual species and ii) the species richness.
Information gathered: Identification of the most important variable that influences species richness and individual species occurrence in caves and epigean habitats.

Objective 2.
Evaluate the intensity of fluctuating asymmetry (FA) as an indicator of population stress in the cave habitats as compared to epigean habitats with different intensity of human impact.

Based on the observations made during the previous activities one species that occurs in both cave and epigean habitats will be selected. Within the studied area harvestmen will be collected from cave and epigean habitats with different intensity of human impact. Total body length, chelicerae and the length of both pedipalps of each individual will be measured. The analysis of FA follows the procedures described by Palmer (1994) and Palmer & Strobeck (1997). We will test the predictions that FA will be higher in: i) epigean populations than in those from the caves; ii) epigean population in areas with high human impact than those with low human impact. By comparing the measurements from different populations with varying environment condition and human impact we can evaluate if the FA of selected parameters is effective as an indicator of population stress in harvestmen.