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Project summary

Comparative studies on factors that influence species occurrence in caves and surrounding epigean habitats can provide important data for colonization theory. Harvestmen are an ideal group for this type of study because they colonize both epigean and subterranean habitats and individual species exhibit clear preference for certain type of habitats. Local habitat could affect the fitness of animals through variation in environmental conditions. At the population level, changes in morphological characteristics can indicate habitat quality. Fluctuating asymmetry (FA) evaluates bilateral symmetry of a variety of body characteristics and is considered a good indicator of population stress. Differences between FA in cave and respectively epigean habitats could be interpreted as an indication of responses to habitat suitability. The purpose of the present project is to identify the main factors that determine the occurrence of harvestmen in cave and epigean habitats in Mehedinti Plateau Geopark. I hypothesize that: i) the main factors affecting harvestmen occurrence will be environmental factors (such as habitat type and humidity in epigean habitats and type of cave and cave development for cave habitats) ii) FA will be higher in epigean habitats because they are suboptimal habitats due to large fluctuations in meteorological conditions and human impact.