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Holsinger To Be Honored for Captain Karst Exploits

this is a head and shoulders photo of ODU biologist John HolsingerJohn Holsinger

Karst is what they call the irregular limestone terrain containing sinkholes, underground streams and caves. Captain Karst is what they call Old Dominion University biospeleologist John Holsinger.

In fact, Holsinger is so settled in his role as Captain Karst that his fellow scientists and cave explorers in the National Speleological Society (NSS) will honor him in their NSS Luminary Series at the organization's annual convention next month in Huntsville, Ala.

"An academic legend" is how the NSS News publication described Holsinger in an article in its June issue announcing his inclusion in the upcoming convention's Luminary Series. "Witty, brilliant, entertaining, and a great guy, John Holsinger - Captain Karst - always enthralls his enthusiastic audiences."

Holsinger, who is emeritus Eminent Scholar and professor of biological sciences at ODU, will deliver a Luminary address titled "A Look Back at 60 Years of Caves, Caving, Cave Biology, and Conservation in the NSS Virginia Region and Elsewhere."

As the article points out, Holsinger will have lots of adventures - some of them harrowing - to talk about.

As one of the world's top authorities on the blind crustaceans that live in streams and pools inside caves, he has braved descents far into the karst. In his laboratory at ODU he has sat in judgment hundreds of times on specimen that he and others have found in caves, and which may or may not be new species.

He is best known for painstaking research to document different species of subterranean amphipod crustaceans, specimens of which float in alcohol in hundreds of jars in his laboratory. The creatures resemble shrimp or crayfish. A number of cave-adapted invertebrate animals, including species of amphipods, isopods, spiders and snails, have the official Latin name holsingeri. Even two genera, an amphipod and a snail, are named Holsingerius and Holsingeria, respectively.

Holsinger traces his interest in caves and spelunking to his undergraduate days at Virginia Tech, which is in a mountainous part of the state. "There is a lot of caving activity there and I got involved," he says. "I was a biology major, so cave organisms became my focus." Holsinger continued with the focus through his doctoral studies at the University of Kentucky, another institution with karst and caves nearby. He got his Ph.D. in biological sciences in 1966 and two years later joined the faculty at Old Dominion.

His colleagues in the NSS also paid tribute to Holsinger by organizing a special symposium honoring him and his work at the society's 2007 convention.

Holsinger served numerous terms on the Virginia Cave Board, seeking over the years to protect karst areas from threats such as road construction and garbage dumping. Keeping caves pristine helps to protect the quality of underground water, and it gives subterranean amphipod crustaceans, some of which are endangered species in Virginia, a chance to thrive. In some cases, environmental diligence may keep species of yet unidentified crustaceans protected long enough for Holsinger to discover them.