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", "anchialine cave waters", "anchihaline habitats", "metahaline anchihaline 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 flooded inland marine caves and groundwaters that lack any direct surface connection with the open sea, with a wide range of different salinities, and showing the following subterranean features:

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

    For the most part anchialine conditions developed on the islands or continental media, probably pending plio-pleistocenic sea regressions. Anchialine fauna has drawn particular attention because it mostly embraces endemic organisms, as well as tethyan relicts. Anchihaline species, 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.

    Anchialine habitats are rich of remarkable and unusual crustaceans (copepods, ostracods, atyid shrimps, thermosbaenaceans, hadziid amphipods, cirolanid isopods, remipedes, etc.), In last decade noteworthy representatives of copepods have been discovered, such as platycopioids, calanoids, speleoithonids, novocriniids, etc.

    In recent years approximately 200 new species, 50 new genera, at least 10 new families, two new orders and even a new class of crustaceans (the Remipedia) have been described from anchialine caves, particularly on islands.

    The recent discovery of misophrioid copepods in anchialine caves on Bermuda revealed that this habitat has been also exploited by this group of crustaceans previously considered a most deep-sea taxon (Boxshall, 1984).

    As regard the origin of the anchihaline 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.

    Anchialine habitats are known for numerous world localities: Hawaii, Bermuda, Bahamas, Galapagos, Mexico, Canarie, Oceania, Australia, Croazia, Dalmazia, Greece, Baleari, Italy.

    World map of anchialine areas (from: Iliffe, 2000, mod.)




    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 Term 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 ( Microcharon arganoi, Hadzia minuta), whose distribution seem to be limited to coastal habitats, 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).

    Particularly the anchialine fauna of the Salentine Peninsula includes a gret number of palaeomediterranean taxa, which show close affinities with the Gondwana fauna, and could be considered relict elements of a tropical and/or subtropical miocenic fauna.


    The anchialine fauna of Sicily is present in the karstic area of Porto Palo (South Sicily) were numerous coastal wells can be found. In these environments several, interesting stygobitic elements were discovered (Pesce, 2002; Pesce & Galassi, 1987): cyclopid (Halicyclops troglodites, Eucyclops ibleicus, Eucyclops longispinosus, Diacyclops clandestinus, Diacyclops crassicaudis trinacriae, Thermocyclops oblongatus) and harpacticoid (Nitocrella stammeri, Attheyella paranaphtalica, Elaphoidella elaphoides, Elaphoidella rossellae, Parastenocaris trinacriae) copepods; amphipods (Niphargus longicaudatus); water mites (Soldanellonyx monardi, Porohalacarus alpinus, Lobohalacarus weberi), syncarids (Bathynella sp.), thermosbaenaceans (Tethysbaena siracusae), asellid isopods (Proasellus coxalis), turbellarians, gastropods and ostracods.

    The ecological of this area is remarkable, since besides a few stygoxenes and stygophiles, numerous strictly stygobitic species, some of ancient origin, can be found; other interesting elements of the anchialine fauna of this region are thalassoid taxa which colonizad the ground waters of Sicily pending the the Mio-Pliocenic age, according to the "Regression Model Evolution" byt Stock (1977, 1980)


  • First record of Superornatiremidae 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
  • Anchialine caves and cave fauna of the World
  • Gli Ambienti Anchialini (University of L'Aquila) [italian]


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    Ohtsuka, S., A. Fosshagen and T.M. Iliffe (1993). Two new species of Paramisophria (Copepod, Calanoida, Arietellidae) from anchialine caves on the Canary and Galápagos Islands. Sarsia, 78(1):57-68.

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    Pesce G.L. & T.M. Iliffe. 2000. New records of cave-dwelling mysids from the Bahamas and Mexico with description of Palaumysis bahamaensis n.sp. (Crustacea: Mysidacea). J. nat. Hist. (in press).

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