Cave Dwelling Dust Bunnies: Lint Accumulation in Lewis and Clark Caverns
The purpose of this research is to develop methods for sampling lint accumulated in show caves, as well as determine whether or not different amounts of human impact affects lint distribution. The research is important as the lint may also be contributing to microplastics in the cave environment. Lewis and Clark Caverns is Montana’s only show cave, and has been in commercial use since the early 1900’s. The commercial use has ultimately lead to a high amount of human impact on the delicate ecosystem. The lint has been suggested to alter the ecosystem within the cave by allowing different organisms that are not adapted to live in a low energy ecosystem to out-compete organisms that are. Additionally, recent interest in microplastics has spurred research in aquatic environments, as the effects that the plastics have on the environment is not yet well known. Considering cave environments have not been thoroughly studied in regards to the impacts of lint, or microplastics, it may be necessary to provide data in regards to microplastics. Microplastics can be derived from synthetic materials, which cave visitors are often using, therefore providing evidence that microplastics may be found in show caves. This will help to determine whether or not lint/microplastics actually have a significant amount of impact in Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Additionally, in an attempt to protect visitors and the cave, Lewis and Clark Caverns, along with many other show caves keep tours to only certain parts of the cave. However, considering lint is light and there is barometric pressure changes within the cave, the lint may not be concentrating to just the tour trail, therefore posing another challenge to the idea of sustainable tourism in cave systems. In general, the results of this research project will provide new methods to sample for lint, and will also provide insight into the effects microplastics may potentially be having on the cave system.