Into the Darkness: Research and Conservation of Cave Organisms Across the Globe


On Saturday, September 28, the MSNH hosted a presentation series on research and conservation of cave organisms at the Richard Gilder Graduate School of the American Museum of Natural History. Dr. Ariadna Morales, a postdoctoral researcher from the American Museum of Natural History, discussed her research on bats and how bats play an important role in regulating insects. Callie Crawford, a Ph.D. student from the New Jersey Institute of Technology, talked about her research on cave fish in Thailand and how these fish use specialized structures to walk up waterfalls. Han Vo and Lam Ngo, members of the Vietnamese organization, Save Son Doong, talked about the fascinating geology, biological diversity and history of Son Doong Cave. Son Doong Cave is located at the center of Phong Nha Ke Bang National Park in Quang Binh Province, Vietnam and is listed as a UNESCO's world heritage site. The cave is the world's largest and has remained untouched since its formation 5 million years ago. However, for the past 5 years, the cave has been threatened by a mass tourism cable car project which would bring more than 1 million visitors annually into the cave and severely impact its biological diversity. Save Son Doong is a grass-roots organization trying to protect the cave by raising the public awareness.


A special thank you to Ariadna, Callie, Han and Lam for the great presentations and to the Richard Gilder Graduate School for providing space for us to host this event.

To view more photos from this event, please visit our gallery. All photo credit goes to Harald Parzer.


Dr. Ariadna Morales is a Gerstner Postdoctoral Scholar at the American Museum of Natural History in the Department of Mammalogy studying speciation and convergent evolution of bats. Dr. Morales received her Ph.D. in Evolution, Ecology and Organismal Biology from The Ohio State University in 2018. She studies the bat genus Myotis, the only group of bats that has colonized all five continents and repeatedly evolved three foraging strategies. Her research integrates cutting-edge genomic tools and morphometric and environmental approaches to study the evolutionary mechanism that promote species diversity and morphological convergence.


Callie Crawford is a Ph.D. candidate in the Brooke Flammang Lab in the Department of Biological Sciences at the New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark, New Jersey. She is studying the biomechanics of terrestrial walking in hillstream loache fish in an evolutionary context. Loache fishes have a pelvic morphology which converge on some features of tetrapods (the group of animals with four limbs) allowing for tetrapod-like walking. Using muscular and skeletal morphology, biomechanics (EMG, Kinematics, and force transmission), and biorobotics, her research will inform our understanding of mechanisms underlying the convergent evolution of morphological innovation. Her work is part of the NSF funded Rules of Life initiative, Phylogenomically-Based Bioinspired Robotic Model Approach to Address the Evolution of Terrestrial Locomotion.


Save Son Doong (SSD) organization started as a grassroots initiative that has tried to protect the world’s largest cave, Son Doong cave, in central Vietnam when it was subjected to corporate exploitation. Their approaches to save the cave are to raise awareness and educate the public about the cave's scientific values, its sensitive ecosystem, and the potential harm of mass tourism on this place and to advocate among Vietnamese citizens as well as the international communities (UNESCO & other iNGO's, foreign embassies in Vietnam, etc.) to push for regulations against mass tourism into the core zone of this World Natural Heritage site. Two representatives from SSD, Han Vo and Lam Ngo, will discuss the efforts of their organization. Vo is among 7 founding members of SSD. He holds a bachelor’s degree in environmental engineering from the National University of Singapore. In 2018, he was awarded a Fulbright Scholarship from the US government to pursue a Master’s Degree in International Development at Clark University, Massachusetts. His work involves nature conservation and monitoring and evaluation of foreign-aid programs. Ngo is the youngest member of SSD and has been an active member since its founding. She is currently enrolled as an undergraduate studying Mathematics at Sewanee: The University of The South. Recently, she also completed a 6-month intensive internship at the American Museum of Natural History in NYC. Her professional interests include cave biology, nature conservation, and biodiversity informatics.


To learn more about Ariadna Morales and her research, visit her website or follow her on Twitter: @_AriadnaMorales.

You can also follow Callie Crawford @CallieHCrawford.

To follow Son Doong Cave, support their cause, and find further information: please follow their official page on Facebook or their website (only available in Vietnamese). If your are interested in purchasing t-shirts, please contact Lam Ngo directly (