Talus Cave Community

Talus cave community
David M. Hunt

Natural Caves
State Protection
Not Listed
Not listed or protected by New York State.
Federal Protection
Not Listed
State Conservation Status Rank
Imperiled or Vulnerable in New York - Very vulnerable, or vulnerable, to disappearing from New York, due to rarity or other factors; typically 6 to 80 populations or locations in New York, few individuals, restricted range, few remaining acres (or miles of stream), and/or recent and widespread declines. More information is needed to assign either S2 or S3.
Global Conservation Status Rank
Apparently Secure globally - Uncommon in the world but not rare; usually widespread, but may be rare in some parts of its range; possibly some cause for long-term concern due to declines or other factors.


Did you know?

Talus cave communities are not like typical caves. They occur amidst boulders or cobbles where openings form between rocks. They originate from layers of rocks and boulders that slip down a mountain or cliff. Animals that use talus caves for denning and cover include rattlesnakes, bobcats, porcupines, bats, and other small mammals and reptiles.

State Ranking Justification

There are a few hundred occurrences statewide. A few documented occurrences have good viability and few are protected on public land or private conservation land. This community is limited to areas of the state with fractured talus that accumulates at the base of cliffs and mountains. There are a few large, high quality examples in New York. The current trend of this community is probably stable for occurrences on public land, or declining slightly elsewhere due to moderate threats that include mineral extraction and recreational overuse.

Short-term Trends

The number and acreage of talus cave communities in New York have probably declined slightly in recent decades as a result of mineral extraction and other development.

Long-term Trends

The number and acreage of talus cave communities in New York have probably declined moderately from historical numbers as a result of mineral extraction and other development.

Conservation and Management


This community is dependent on the accumulation of fractured talus at the base of cliffs and mountains. Talus cave communities are threatened by adjacent upslope development (e.g., residential, agricultural, industrial) and its associated run-off. Other threats include habitat alteration (e.g., mining, logging adjacent forests). Recreational overuse in the form of concentrated or sustained rock climbing and cave exploration is a threat to some occurrences, especially during denning season for mammals. Recreational overuse in areas adjacent to talus caves is a relatively minor threat (e.g., ATVs, trampling by visitors, campgrounds, picnic areas, trash dumping).

Conservation Strategies and Management Practices

Where practical establish and maintain a natural forested buffer to reduce storm-water, pollution, and nutrient run-off, while simultaneously capturing sediments before they run into the talus cave system. Avoid habitat alteration in the surrounding landscape. Restore sites that have been unnaturally disturbed (e.g., by mining). Although not considered an immediate threat, it may be prudent to prevent the spread of invasive exotic species into the talus cave community through appropriate direct management, and by minimizing potential dispersal corridors, such as trails and utility ROWs. Monitor rock climbing and caving activity, and develop a management plan for sites where recreational overuse is a concern.

Inventory Needs

Need quantitative surveys of all sites and to search for additional sites. Survey for occurrences statewide to advance documentation and classification of talus cave communities. Continue searching for large talus caves in good condition (A- to AB-ranked).

Research Needs

Need research to quantify composition of talus cave fauna. Research is need to document the use of talus cave communities by animals as breeding sites. Three to five ecoregional variants (including Northern Appalachian, Lower New England, and Alleghany Plateau types) are suspected to differ in characteristic and dominant mammals, reptiles, insects, lichens, bryophytes, and fungi. More data on invertebrates, bryophytes, and fungi, as well as regional variants, are needed.

Rare Species

  • Crepidomanes intricatum (Weft Fern) (guide)
  • Vittaria appalachiana (Appalachian Shoestring Fern) (guide)


New York State Distribution

This community is sparsely scattered throughout upstate New York, north of the North Atlantic Coast Ecoregion. It is concentrated in the mountainous areas of the state including documented examples in the Adirondack Mountains and Taconic Foothills.

Global Distribution

This physically broadly-defined community may be worldwide. Examples with the greatest biotic affinities to New York occurrences are suspected to span north to southern Canada, west to Illinois, southwest to Kentucky and Tennessee, and southeast to North Carolina

Best Places to See

  • Adirondack Park (Herkimer County)
  • Pittstown State Forest (Rensselaer County)

Identification Comments

General Description

A subterranean community that occurs in small crevices and caves with walls that are composed of boulders or cobbles, usually within a talus slope or at the base of a cliff. Most examples are shallow and primarily composed of twilight zone, with possible small areas of dark zone. Bryophytes, lichens, and fungi may be present growing on the rocky substrate. Animal species such as timber rattlesnake (Crotalus horridus), bobcat (Lynx rufus), North American porcupine (Erethizon dorsatum), and rock vole (Microtus chrotorrhinus) may use talus cave communities for denning. Bats may be present in some examples. This community includes the subterrean portion of ice caves, which contain ice that remains into or throughout the summer, creating a cool microclimate just outside the cave opening. The floral composition near the cave opening is influenced by the cool temperature and is often made up of boreal species (see ice cave talus community).

Characters Most Useful for Identification

Talus cave communities are located within a talus slope, with the walls consisting of large rocks, boulders, and cobbles. The flora and fauna vary greatly. Larger examples may serve as denning sites for small and medium vertebrates.

Elevation Range

Known examples of this community have been found at elevations between 675 feet and 2,264 feet.

Best Time to See

Talus cave communities can be observed any time of the year.

Talus Cave Community Images


Similar Ecological Communities

  • Aquatic cave community
    Aquatic caves are subterranean communities associated with streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds. Talus cave communities are subterranean, but are associated with terrestrial talus slopes or cliffs.
  • Ice cave talus community (guide)
    Ice cave talus communities are terrestrial communities rather than subterranean, and comprise the community that occurs outside of an ice cave. The flora near the cave opening is influenced by the cool microclimate created by the stable presence of ice throughout the growing season, and often includes some species typical of boreal regions, such as creeping snowberry (Gaultheria hispidula), black spruce (Picea mariana), and mountain ash (Sorbus americana).
  • Terrestrial cave community
    Terrestrial caves are subterranean communities with walls composed of consolidated bedrock rather than the boulders and cobbles associated with talus cave communities. Most examples of terrestrial caves are deeper than talus caves, with larger cavities and all four light intensity zones.


Nonvascular plants

Percent cover

This figure helps visualize the structure and "look" or "feel" of a typical Talus Cave Community. Each bar represents the amount of "coverage" for all the species growing at that height. Because layers overlap (shrubs may grow under trees, for example), the shaded regions can add up to more than 100%.

Additional Resources


Boga, S. 1997. Caving. Stackpole Books, Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania.

Cullen, J.J., J. Mylroie, and A.N. Palmer. 1979. Karst hydrology and geomorphology of eastern New York. Unpublished guidebook. National Speleogical Society Annual Convention, Pittsfield, MA.

Edinger, G. J., D. J. Evans, S. Gebauer, T. G. Howard, D. M. Hunt, and A. M. Olivero (editors). 2014. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke’s Ecological Communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, Albany, NY. https://www.nynhp.org/ecological-communities/

Edinger, Gregory J., D.J. Evans, Shane Gebauer, Timothy G. Howard, David M. Hunt, and Adele M. Olivero (editors). 2002. Ecological Communities of New York State. Second Edition. A revised and expanded edition of Carol Reschke's Ecological Communities of New York State. (Draft for review). New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Albany, NY. 136 pp.

Engel, T. 1997. What is a cave? Northeastern Caver Newsletter. March 1997.

Evans, J., P. Quick, and B. Sloane (Editors). 1979. An Introduction to Caves of the Northeast: Guidebook for the 1979 National Speological Society Convention. NSS Convention Guidebook 20. Pittsfield, MA.

Ford, D.C. and P.W. Williams. 1989. Karst geomorphology and hydrology. Unwin Hyman Ltd. Winchester, MA.

Halliday, W.R. 1993. How (and why) to inventory cave wilderness values. National Speleogical Society News. December 1993:328-329.

Hamilton-Smith, E. 1971. The classification of cavernicoles. The National Speleogical Society Bulletin. 33(1):63-66.

Heald, Edward T. 1929. Taconic trails. Being a partial guide of Rensselaer County rambles by auto and afoot. J.B. Lyon Company, Albany.

Kastning, E.H. and S.M. Cohen. 1988. Caverns of the Shawangunk and its environs, southesastern New York. Northeastern Regional Organization Publication 20. National Speleogical Society.

McMartin, Barbara. 1989. Discover the Adirondack High Peaks. Backcountry Publications, Woodstock, Vermont. 285 pp.

Moore, G.W. and N. Sullivan. 1997. Speleology: Caves and the cave environment. Cave Books, St. Louis, MO.

Mylroie, J.E. 1977. Speleogenesis and karst geomorphology of the Helderberg Plateau, Schoharie County, New York. Bulletin 2. New York Cave Survey. Ph.D. Thesis. Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY.

Nardacci, M. 1991. Guide to the Caves and Karst of the Northeast. National Speological Society, Huntsville, AL.

National Speleological Society. 1958. Caves of Watertown, New York State. N.R.O. Publication.

New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. New York Natural Heritage Program Databases. Albany, NY.

Perry, C. 1966. Underground empire: Wonders and tales of New York caves. I.J. Friedman, Inc., Port Washington, NY.

Reschke, Carol. 1990. Ecological communities of New York State. New York Natural Heritage Program, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation. Latham, NY. 96 pp. plus xi.

Thompson, J.E. 1999. Cliff and talus survey of the Mohonk Preserve. Unpublished report. Daniel Smiley Research Center, New Paltz, NY

Vandel, A. 1965. Biospeleology: The biology of cavernicolous animals. Pergamon Press. New York, NY.

About This Guide

This guide was authored by: Jennifer Garrett

Information for this guide was last updated on: April 3, 2017

Please cite this page as:
New York Natural Heritage Program. 2024. Online Conservation Guide for Talus cave community. Available from: https://guides.nynhp.org/talus-cave-community/. Accessed July 19, 2024.