Finally, the Slovenian team travelled to Bosnia and Herzegovina. From 13th to 20th March 2021, eight SubBioLab members visited the project area in the Trebišnjica River basin, to sample springs and caves. Before our trip, we received valuable information about potentially interesting sites from Brian Lewarne (The Proteus Project), Gergely Balazs (biologist and cave diver from Hungary), and other researchers that had worked in the area.

Beautiful view over Dabarsko polje. 

We worked in two separate teams, to be as efficient as possible. Jasminko Mulaomerović from the Center for Karst and Speleology joined us for two day of field work, while on one day, Nikola, a caver from Zelena brda caving club, led us to some springs and caves near Trebinje. We were very successful, and took samples from 32 different sites. Some other were visited, but were inaccessible due to the high water level at that time.

Sampling in Vjetrenica Cave, renown for its high subterranean biodiversity.

We recorded many different subterranean species, including the olm (Proteus anguinus). Aquatic subterranean species were mainly crustaceans: cave shrimps (genus Troglocaris), amphipods (genus Niphargus), and isopods (genera Monolistra and Proasellus). We were thrilled to see the live cave clam (Congeria kusceri) and the only subterranean tube worms (Marifugia cavatica). In caves, we recorded also many subterranean terrestrial species, including cave beetles, spiders, centipedes, tiny harvestmen of the genus Travunia… We also recorded the presence of fishes and bats in the visited caves, to contribute to a better knowledge of their distribution in the region. With the same intention, we reported some other records of the animals to the online portal Biologer.

Sampling at Lušac spring, together with Nikola from caving club Zelena brda.

We took the opportunity to meet local organisations and stakeholders, working in or near the project area. On the first day of our arrival, we were warmly welcomed by the director of Vjetrenica Cave, Nikša Vuletić, who gave us all the support we needed to visit the cave, and useful tips about other caves in the Ravno municipality. His hospitality was a nice introduction to the spirit of Bosnia and Herzegovina, where we met many friendly and open people, who gave us hints on how to reach caves even in some very remote hilly and snowy areas. A lot of valuable information about the caves of the region was shared with us by cavers of Zelena brda from Trebinje, who are experts on the caves of the region. On the last day, we met with Vedran Kordić and Sanja Duranović from WWF Adria, to share experiences about the ongoing CEPF projects we are both working on.

We made this journey possible by doing all necessary PCR testing for Covid-19, and following all recommendations to limit the spread of the virus. We have shown that field work  is possible, if all precautions are followed. And, this gives us realistic hope to organise another field trip to this area in summer, when water levels are lower.

Group photo with Jasminko from Center for Karst and Speleology and members of SubBioLab (Maja, Hans, Anja K., Špela, Anja P., Teo, Beki, Ester).

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