HFG Mühlacker

Cave and Karst Reserach – Natural Conservation

German homepage

On this page:

Alpine caves

Cave microbiology

Cave lepidoptera

Please read our English summary of www.hfg-muehlacker.de below

Alpine Caves

Since 1983 the HFGM is in charge of a speleological project in Berchtesgaden National Park, (Germany, Bavaria; Northern Limestone Alps). Besides the speleological exploration and cartographic documentation of more than one hundred caves in the area of the Wildpalfen, Jägerbrunntrog, Teufelshorn and Lawand Peaks (Hagengebirge, Steinernes Meer, altitude between 2200 and 2400m, mainly bare karst), research is focused on biospeleological, meteorological and hydrological aspects.

A comprehensive photographic documentation is performed by Freimut Schmidt.

With a total length of more than 6 kilometers, the "Wildpalfen-System" is presently (2003) Germany’s largest cave system in the alpine vegetation zone. In all four known entrance zones cave ice is observed. During the last decade we have registered a constant loss of ice mass together with block-creeping of cave sediment due to thaw of permafrost sediment.

The cave system has a complex and multi-phase speleogenesis and consists of two horizontal passage levels (relict caves), at about 1950m and 1800m altitude which relate to old piezometer levels, connected and cut through by extended and narrow canon systems. The transition zone is very extensive. Presently, all known passages end at about 1730m in extremely narrow canons or siphons.

Although the upper 500m of the mountains (between 2300 and 1800 m) are holokarst with the full set of alpine (glacial) karst characteristics (karren, sinkholes, karst ponds, interrupted rivulets, relict caves etc.), we have some merokarst features at about 1500m level (important springs and surface drainage, waterfalls), which is still more than 900m above the karst base level, which is below 600m (Königssee).

Due to the ice drop in the caves, we could recently explore "Blinkerloch" cave, discovered in 1986 and situated in the proximity of the Wildpalfen summit. There are good prospects to connect this very active canon-cave with the most remote parts of the Wildpalfen system. In 2003 only 50 horizontal meters and 20 vertical meters separate the two caves.

In 2003 we have also started a new research project at the Hochkalter-Mountains in the National Park Berchtesgaden.

Learn more about our alpine cave research (here)


Microbiology of Caves and Karst Systems

Subsurface microbiology, especially of caves, is a rapidly growing scientific field. In recent years, most spectacular have been microbiological studies in prehistoric caves like Alta Mira and Lascaux.

It was in 1985 that we could prove for the first time world-wide, that Myxobacteria are abundant in caves. The most common cave species of Myxobacteria is Myxococcus fulvus.

Our research is focused on:

  • Microbiology of karst water (particularly alpine caves; monitoring, event campaigns).
  • Microbiology of cave sediment (samples from European and African caves; succession studies).
  • Microbiology of cave walls (particularly alpine caves; crusts, moonmilk, ATP-content).
  • Main objectives:

  • Development of a comprehensive model of karst-microbiology (Klasum-Model).
  • Drinking water research in karst systems.
  • Role of microorganisms in speleogenesis (Carbonatolyse; Bioconservation).
  • Ecology of Myxobacteria.
  • Recent projects:

  • Microbiology of the Wildpalfen system (see above).
  • Monitoring of cave sediments of the Laierhöhle (Germany, Swabian Alp).
  • Caves in Africa.
  • Carbon dioxide monitoring in caves.
  • For more details see our German homepage (more)


    Monitoring of Cave Lepidoptera

    Triphosa dubitata, Triphosa sabaudiata, Scoliopterix libatrix, Inachis io and Aglais urticae are the most abundant Lepidoptera in central European caves. Since 1985 we have a monitoring program established to study long term deviations in subterranean cave Lepidoptera populations.

    One site is an artificial tunnel close to the village Mühlacker, South Germany. Here we monitor hibernating Lepidoptera of the species Scoliopterix libatrix and Inachis io.

    The second monitoring site is in the Wildpalfen cave system, Gamsbemmerllabyrinth-Entrance, Hagengebirge, Berchtesgaden National Park, German Alps.

    Furthermore, spot checks are performed in several alpine caves and caves of the Swabian Alp (e.g. Schillerhöhle).

    Some results:

  • Triphosa dubitata is regularly mating in the alpine cave environment. The mating season is August and the first half of September.
  • Triphosa dubitata is found in some caves in the alpine environment only with very distinctive physical characteristics (cave wind outwards; vertical entrance plane).
  • Triphosa dubitata gets it’s bearings in the alpine cave by means of cave wind perception.
  • Scoliopterix libatrix is rare in high altitude caves in Germany, but is regularly abundant in the Mühlacker site (250m altitude).
  • For a correct understanding of cave Lepidoptera populations, monitoring programs have to include negative findings in the results.
  • Dramatic changes in population size should not be interpreted without obtaining further proof, which allows for disturbances inside the cave or subterranean hibernating sites.
  • For more details please visit our German website (more).


    Please feel free to use also the "Kontakt" menu below if you would like to receive more information about our projects.

    We are interested in joint research projects worldwide.

    Mühlacker/Selters January 20, 2004 

     updated: 25.01.04



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