Hairy stalagmites, a new biogenic root speleothem from Botswana
Du Preez, Gerhard C.
Tiedt, Louwrens R.
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Ngamiland in northwestern Botswana hosts the Gcwihaba Caves which present unique subterranean environments and host speleothems never before recorded. Cave atmospheric conditions can be extreme with temperatures as high as 28°C and relative humidity nearing 99.9%. Within Dimapo and Diviner’s Caves peculiar root speleothems that we named ‘Hairy Stalagmites’ were found. These stalagmites are closely associated with the roots of Namaqua fig (Ficus cordata) trees that enter the cave environment in search of water. Pieces of broken stalagmites were sampled from Dimapo Cave for further investigations. Stereo and electron microscopy revealed that the Hairy Stalagmites consist of multiple intertwined tubes created when thin films of CaCO3 are deposited around fine lateral roots. The importance of the roots is substantiated with evidence of calcified epidermal cells, apical meristems and epidermal imprints. The development of these stalagmites starts when roots accumulate on the cave floor in the vicinity of a water drip and a root nest is created to capture the water. From this point the roots grow upwards (positive hydrotropism) allowing the development of the calcite structure, and as CO2 diffusion and evaporation occurs, CaCO3 is deposited. The environmental conditions necessary for the growth of Hairy Stalagmites, as well their developmental mechanism, are discussed and illustrated