Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

Natural resources of karst show caves: a balance among protection, exploitation, and promotion

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
7.00.00  Interdisciplinary research     

Code Science Field
B003  Biomedical sciences  Ecology 

Code Science Field
1.05  Natural Sciences  Earth and related Environmental sciences 
karst, caves, tourism, protection, natural resources, climate, biodiversity, cave carrying capacity
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (28)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  37554  PhD Matej Blatnik  Geography  Junior researcher  2016 - 2018  196 
2.  17548  Leon Drame    Technical associate  2016 - 2018  47 
3.  17549  Franjo Drole    Technical associate  2016 - 2018  105 
4.  16180  PhD Franci Gabrovšek  Mechanics  Researcher  2016 - 2018  450 
5.  11067  PhD Martin Knez  Geography  Researcher  2016 - 2018  696 
6.  38269  PhD Blaž Kogovšek  Geography  Junior researcher  2016 - 2018  114 
7.  25991  PhD Andreja Nataša Kopitar  Microbiology and immunology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  188 
8.  36395  PhD Peter Kozel  Biology  Researcher  2016 - 2017  68 
9.  18993  PhD Tadeja Matos  Microbiology and immunology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  177 
10.  25599  PhD Alenka Mauko Pranjić  Geology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  314 
11.  09652  PhD Andrej Mihevc  Geography  Researcher  2016 - 2018  793 
12.  05930  PhD Ana Mladenović  Geology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  815 
13.  20220  PhD Janez Mulec  Biology  Head  2016 - 2018  479 
14.  14851  PhD Bojan Otoničar  Geology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  255 
15.  12605  PhD Metka Petrič  Geology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  524 
16.  15687  PhD Tanja Pipan  Natural sciences and mathematics  Researcher  2016 - 2018  384 
17.  25648  PhD Mitja Prelovšek  Geography  Researcher  2017 - 2018  258 
18.  28920  Mojca Privšek    Technical associate  2016 - 2018 
19.  05382  PhD Saša Simčič  Microbiology and immunology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  148 
20.  08099  PhD Tadej Slabe  Geography  Researcher  2016 - 2018  682 
21.  29475  PhD Sanja Stopinšek  Microbiology and immunology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  42 
22.  10443  PhD Stanka Šebela  Geology  Researcher  2016 - 2018  520 
23.  17094  PhD Urban Šilc  Biology  Researcher  2018  410 
24.  38488  Rok Tomazin    Technical associate  2016 - 2018  54 
25.  27508  PhD Janez Turk  Civil engineering  Researcher  2016 - 2018  206 
26.  22574  PhD Nataša Viršek Ravbar  Geography  Researcher  2016 - 2018  473 
27.  17552  Mateja Zadel    Technical associate  2016 - 2018 
28.  01004  PhD Nadja Zupan Hajna  Geography  Researcher  2016 - 2018  476 
Organisations (3)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0381  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Medicine  Ljubljana  1627066  45,364 
2.  0618  Research Centre of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts  Ljubljana  5105498000  61,885 
3.  1502  Slovenian National Building and Civil Engineering Institute  Ljubljana  5866324000  10,123 
Slovenia boasts a rich tradition of utilising karst caves. Caves provide many natural resources which man has been utilising for ages. In the past, the cool cave climate (i.e. ice caves) was used to store food. Water caves provided a source of drinking water, and are occasionally still used today for commercial purposes. Caves functioned as shelters (Predjama) and storage facilities (Račiška pečina). An exceptional underground area, climate, mineral formations, historical and archaeological significance and underground animals (Proteus anguinus) are the key factors which make a cave interesting for tourism. Today, 21 caves in Slovenia make up the transverse show cave hiking route. The oldest documented show cave in the world is Vilenica near Divača. “Old” show caves provide important information about the past (climate and animal life), but the current knowledge is still lacking in many aspects. Based on geological traces in caves, we are able to partly predict future events in the cave and surface environment. Slovenia is witnessing an increase of tourists, especially in the Postojna Cave and Škocjan Caves which are listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. There is pressure in Slovenia but also abroad to open up new show caves or new passages in existing show caves in karst. Due to the very slow natural processes of recovering the natural state, anthropogenic alterations in the underground are virtually everlasting considering the human life span. The past and present utilisation of caves for tourism could be markedly more sustainable if it were more thought-out and in line with scientific guidelines. In line with the Slovenian Cave Protection Act, a proposal is afoot to arrange the custodianship of show caves, which will define the scope and utilisation level as a necessary compromise between preservation and use for tourism. It is also the opportunity to set a sustainable way of utilising existing show caves. Caves are characterized by typical abiotic factors, i.e. rocks, sediments, air and water, which directly influence the underground biota. Troglobitic species are closely linked with the cave habitats, and sensitive to anthropogenic influences which can depauperate the fauna in terms of variety and number. In show caves the normally two-way ecosystem interaction of the biotope and biocenosis is joined by mass tourism which affects the natural state. Each cave is unique in terms of origin and size, but becomes subject to changes in the morphology of its entrances and passages, climate and impact on underground organisms once it is open to the public. Monitoring of the state of organisms in a cave habitat must include those ecological niches which tend to remain out of sight, and often provide a more favourable habitat to organisms. Epikarst comes to mind in this regard. In addition to monitoring the ecological state of aquatic and terrestrial habitats, our activities will focus on examining the aquatic fauna in epikarst which hosts many underground species, including such found in sinking streams and whose primary habitat is epikarst. Any type of destruction or pollution of epikarst, originating on the surface, is a threat to the population and may lead to extinction of some species. The fauna sampling results will help us identify and evaluate the dynamic of species/populations arising as a result of the anthropogenic impact due to cave tourism. Existing and new indicators of ecology, geology and climate will be used in the study to create an assessment on the state and impact of tourism on the cave environment and aquatic and terrestrial habitats. The focus will lie on the two most popular show caves in Slovenia – the Postojna Cave and Škocjan Caves. The findings about the impact of past and present tourist use, along with the indicators and guidelines, will be valuable for managers of show caves as natural sources, for sustainable cave use and preparing long-term management plans.
Significance for science
The project results will not be relevant only on a national level, but also on a global level, as they bring innovations in several aspects: (1) Many international scientific papers have previously highlighted the issue of show cave management. The results from this project will have a long-lasting effect in the international arena, as this will be a worldwide unique approach to address this subject. This includes implementing new practices and going beyond the limits of speleological research and natural heritage management. (2) A speleological database will be designed based on fundamental research of the selected areas, and supported with sophisticated geographical information systems. (3) The proposed project will provide the field of karst hydrology with valuable insights about the dynamics of subterranean flows and transfer of potential contaminants through the vadose zone and via karst conduits. (4) The measurement results of climate parameters in non-tourist cave parts will be analysed alongside historical data and used to assess the impact of climate change on caves. We will establish whether global climate warming is also reflected in the underground which normally reacts with a delay, more subtly and is therefore more indicative as the surface. The measurement results regarding the cave climate will be relevant for understanding climate change globally and in Slovenia. (5) The research of subterranean biology and ecology is increasingly aimed at understanding the basic processes and mechanisms essential for the evolution and existence of biotic communities. Underground fauna sampling is a direct indicator of the state of an underground ecosystem, its health, and can be evaluated based on the size and vitality of its population and biodiversity. Up to date, there have been no synchronous interdisciplinary on-site studies of show caves in Slovenia. This time, we announce a comprehensive karstological approach which will give rise to methodological innovation and originality, and the compilation of a comprehensive database processed interdisciplinary (biology, microbiology, geology, hydrology, geomorphology, physics and chemistry). The study results will be relevant for further plans regarding the tourist use of cave systems. The determined tourism carrying capacity will be the guideline for show cave managers and representatives of the Ministry of Environment and Spatial Planning and Ministry of Agriculture and Institute of the Republic of Slovenia for Nature Conservation. The generated results will affect the wider European community, particularly the European Union, and influence relevant strategy designs. The proposed project will be an international achievement and will bring important novelties to theoretic and practical challenges faced by karstology. The project is coordinated with other scientific research fields of the Karst Research Institute ZRC SAZU and the SAZU Scientific Research Centre.
Significance for the country
Fundamental research rarely has a direct effect on the economy; still, with this project we expect the results to be especially relevant for show cave managers and their efforts to use underground natural resources for tourism without irreversibly changing the cave environment. Project results will be directly applicable to create show cave usage guidelines and management plans, which will take into account, thanks to the project results, the long-term usage of show caves, sustainable tourism development in a cave environment and the tourism carrying capacity of caves. Being the authors of the annual final report of the cave custodian (Postojna and Predjama cave systems) discussing the implementation of the concession contract for the management of cave systems, we understand the on-site situation and significance of further cave climate research, and determining the tourism carrying capacity of caves. Seeing as one part of the research is focused on climate change, the project has a direct impact on the requirements by the economy and mostly by society to adjust to climate change, and propose actions for sustainable use of the environment. We will endeavour to transfer, as much as possible, the newly acquired knowledge to students, young researchers and all involved in karst through the available academic and professional channels. An in-depth insight into the underground in terms of the development/habitation of local organisms will be provided by the monitoring of selected underground habitats and through new data (especially temperature and organic carbon). For two decades we have known that the Dinaric karst, largely its Slovenian part, is a global hot spot of underground biodiversity. Selected underground organisms are protected by an EU directive and the underground biodiversity is legally protected on a national level. It is an important aspect of natural heritage that is supported by the new Slovenian Research Infrastructures Roadmap in which underground biodiversity is included in the EU LifeWatch project. Undoubtedly, the key results will lead to the improvement of the basic knowledge on underground biodiversity, and its increased protection and guardianship. New approaches and a paradigm shift about the adaptation of organisms to subterranean habitats will come useful in the study of other ecosystems and in any industry where mapping of habitat types and species is required before disturbing the environment. Many environmental projects and the vast investment documentation needed by the project designers to make environmental reports and environmental impact reports require detailed habitat maps and lists of species inhabiting the area planned for interventions, definition of the expected impact on the ecosystems and proposals for mitigation measures in the intervention area. This is especially important in the delicate and vulnerable karst.
Most important scientific results Interim report, final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Interim report, final report
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