Projects / Programmes source: ARIS


Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
1.03.00  Natural sciences and mathematics  Biology   

Code Science Field
B005  Biomedical sciences  Zoology 
biodiversity, subterranean, nature protection, DNA phylogeny, barcoding, geoinformatics
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (9)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  21844  Gregor Bračko    Technical associate  2008 - 2011  40 
2.  18913  PhD Cene Fišer  Biology  Researcher  2008 - 2011  273 
3.  28499  PhD Jure Jugovic  Biology  Researcher  2008 - 2011  131 
4.  13605  PhD Simona Prevorčnik  Biology  Researcher  2008 - 2011  103 
5.  00206  PhD Boris Sket  Biology  Head  2008 - 2011  586 
6.  14835  PhD Peter Trontelj  Biology  Researcher  2008 - 2011  424 
7.  16261  PhD Rudi Verovnik  Biology  Researcher  2008 - 2011  393 
8.  23478  PhD Maja Zagmajster  Biology  Researcher  2008 - 2011  343 
9.  25832  PhD Valerija Zakšek  Biology  Researcher  2008 - 2011  136 
Organisations (1)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0481  University of Ljubljana, Biotechnical Faculty  Ljubljana  1626914  66,273 
SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND. Subterranean species – troglobionts – are narrow endemics and often endangered. Our own and other international studies have demonstrated that the Dinaric Region harbors the richest subterranean fauna in the world. The strategy for its conservation depends upon accurate knowledge of the taxonomy and distribution of troglobionts. Further, this knowledge is essential for other scientific disciplines like biogeography and evolutionary biology. PROBLEM OUTLINE. Subterranean animals are prone to convergent morphological evolution and encompass a high degree of cryptic diversity. This implies a higher number of species than were recognized by classical taxonomy, a higher degree of endemism, and smaller ranges. Effective conservation, management, use for biomonitoring, and a clear biogeographic picture are impeded by at least three kinds of problems: (1) difficult identification of described species; (2) inappropriate classifications where taxa are grouped by similarity rather than by recency of common ancestors; (3) an erroneous biogeographic picture that obscures true centers of diversity and endemism and thus priority sites for conservation. The solutions dealt with in this project are a synthesis of molecular phylogenetics, bioinformatics and biodiversity research, and an integration of taxonomic and spatial data in a geographic information system (GIS). RESEARCH OBJECTIVES - To improve our knowledge on the phylogeny of key groups in the European and Dinaric subterranean fauna based on the analysis of DNA sequences; to integrate the results in international taxonomic and (phylo)genetic databases. - To propose and elaborate a case study for a WWW-based taxonomic revision of a problematic group, which will enable a prompt and coordinated participation of all interested taxonomists (the genus Niphargus). - To develop fast and simple molecular protocols for the identification of problematic species of the studied groups ('DNA barcoding'). - To integrate the new, revised systematic data with spatial data, to test within a GIS framework hypotheses on the evolution of subterranean biodiversity, and to make a list of subterranean hot-spots of diversity and endemism. - To analyse the distribution patterns of subterranean taxa and establish taxonomic or geographic deficiencies in our data (gap analysis). - To propose criteria for the selection of conservation sites for subterranean biodiversity, and to propose a priority list of such sites. RESEARCH SCOPE. Geographical scope: the area of the Dinaric Karst, the Slovenian part of the Southern Calacareous Alps. Taxonomical scope: the genera Niphargus (Amphipoda), Monolistra (Isopoda), Troglocaris (Decapoda), and Proteus (Amphibia), as well as the wider taxon Leptodirinae (Coleoptera).
Significance for science
The following findings we consider the most important for science: (1) To produce objective (phylogenetically based) taxonomic scheme for the studied groups (Niphargus, Monolistra, Atyidae) it is necessary to combine molecular and morphological approach. After the identification of molecular differences some morphological differences may ususally also be found, at least with detailed morphometric and multivariate statistical data treatment. (2) The so-called "cryptic species" are usually an artifact, which can be solved by combining molecular and detailed morphometric analyses. (3) Large distribution areas of subterranean species are mostly artifacts. Molecular analyses show that the areas of aquatic troglobiotic macroinvertebrates are only exceptionally more than 200 km in diameter. (4) Some examples (here genus Proteus - troglomorphoses, Monolistra – retention of uropods) clearly warn against indiscriminate usage of the most popular cladistic techniques in phylogenetics. Even the parsimony principle may be misleading, the outgroup analysis can give a wrong polarization of character states, and the 'Total evidence' approach can be (it probably commonly is) senseless, since morphological and molecular markers may speak one against the others. (5) In some animal groups (the rich genus Niphargus here) parallel radiations in independent phyletic lines are evident. This produced development of morphologically similar, but genetically non-related species. (6) We found that for some groups (eg. Niphargus) the only taxonomically reliable samples are from topotypic populations. This points to greater caution required for the taxonomic designation of molecular sequences in GeneBank (and in published genealogies), which are often accompanied by very superficial indications of source samples (eg. only by country). (7) We discovered a complete homoplasy of morphological characters, which were in Atyidae shrimps used even for characterization of subfamilies and genera. Therefore a taxonomical rearrangement of this family was necessary. (8) We found out that apparently morphologically very reliably defined subgenera of the genus Monolistra (Isopoda: Sphaeromatidae) are not monophyletic. (9) We could show that the rostrum development in cave shrimps depends on the presence of the predator (Proteus) in the same environment. It is not known whether this is phenotypically controlled (like in Cladocera, Rotatoria etc.), or it is a result of selection. (10) We raised and described a new genus (Gallocaris, Decapoda: Atyidae), three new subgenera (Troglocaris s.str, Troglocaridella, Spelaeocaris, Decapoda: Atyidae; names used were already available), and several new species (Decapoda Troglocaris - 5 species; Isopoda Monolistra - 3 species; Isopoda Asellus - 1 species) of crustaceans.
Significance for the country
(prevaja Rudi) (to je 1.600 znakov, se lahko podaljša) The Wider Dinaric area (or Western Balkans), which in this context includes the whole territories of the countries involved, has proved to be the global hot spot in terms of biodiversity of subterranean habitats. Within Dinaric region two hot spots stand out, the one in Slovenia being particularly rich with aquatic troglobiotic fauna. Beside that, the first troglobiotic animal species were described from Slovenia and the region has seen the first targeted speleobiological research. These are the facts that puts us under obligation to take special care for the conservation of this rich subterranean biodiversity. Results of the project are also new data on the biodiversity of Slovenia, which gives more weight to the assignment described above. In practice, some results are useful for a more reasonable planning of protection of subterranean biodiversity. Such are the findings of the distribution of the squares with the highest species density (in particular) in Slovenia; this points out the need to protect large continuous areas. Most importantly, we found much higher genetic differentiation of species than supposed earlier, according to their external appearance (morphology). This raises the conservationists’additional task to retain as much of this molecular (genetic) legacy as we can. Some practical importance, useful outside biology, has the finding that distribution of the subterranean taxa may be linked either to present or to fossil river drainages. Thus we can see the applicability (or unapplicability) of the faunistic data for identification of underground water connections; as well as in palaeogeography, to discern the likely paleohydrographic systems and their development.
Most important scientific results Annual report 2008, 2009, final report, complete report on dLib.si
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Annual report 2008, 2009, final report, complete report on dLib.si
Views history