Western Balkan’s Dinarides are a global hotspot of subterranean biodiversity. Despite this exceptional value, the unique subterranean fauna of the region is highly endangered, due to an unfortunate combination of incomplete knowledge, and ambitious economic-developmental plans. Numerous species might become extinct even before being discovered.

There is a high need to develop tools for a rapid assessment of subterranean biodiversity and to provide this know-how to the local community and decision makers.

Changes to natural river channels can have devastating effects on the species that depend on regular flooding and input of water to underground. By catching the Trebišnjica river in the artificial concrete channel in Popovo polje (left) natural flooding of sink holes at the edge of the polje was affected. As a consequence, large aggregations of small exclusively subterranean tube worms Marifugia cavatica in the sink hole cave Crnulja died. This cave is a type locality of the species, meaning a locality, where the species was scientifically described from.





1) Project management and administration

Basic for coordinating the activities, monitoring the project, preparing reports and communicating with CEPF.


2) Improving the knowledge on subterranean species distribution

One of the main goals of the project is the completion of species inventory of the target region and development of new approaches for rapid biodiversity assessment. Activities include fieldwork, morphological and molecular analyses, and preparation of guidelines to continue this work by local stakeholders.


3) Assembling the database and developing the database tools

In the database SubBioDB-BIH, list of species, spatial data on their distribution, and DNA barcodes as well as conservation status will be assembled. This will increase the data accessibility to local community and authorities, which shall facilitate nature protection decisions.


4) Assessing the IUCN conservation status of selected species and identifying the priority sites for conservation

We will use the criteria of the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species Conservation to evaluate conservation status of selected species, as well as to identify a list of priority sites for subterranean biodiversity protection.


5) Capacity building, raising competences and networking

Large part of the project is to empower local community, students, naturalists and other stakeholders, in all aspects of research and conservation of the subterranean biodiversity. This includes workshops and student internships.


6) Dissemination of project activities and results

The project will be promoted via website, social media, newspaper articles, and by personal visits to the decision makers. In addition, workshops and conferences on the topics of subterranean biology and conservation of the Dinarides will be organized.

CEPF HOTSPOT: Mediterranean Basin

CEPF Corridor: Eastern Adriatic Corridor

CEPF Catchment Management Zones:

(1) Popovo polje and Trebišnjica

(2) Nevesinjsko polje, Gatačko polje, Cerničko polje, Fatničko polje and Dabarsko polje.

CEPF Key Biodiversity Areas included:

BIH01: Dabarsko i Fatničko polje

BIH05: Orijen i Bijela gora

BIH06: Popovo polje, Vjetrenica

BIH08: Trebinjsko jezero


Dinarides are well known for its surface species richness and endemism, while its status as a global hotspot of subterranean biodiversity remains largely overlooked.


The subterranean biodiversity of the Dinarides is exceptional in many aspects:

  • the first scientific discoveries and descriptions of obligate subterranean species in the world come from here: slenderneck beetle Leptodirus hochenwartii and the olm Proteus anguinus, were the first discovered subterranean species;
  • the olm is the largest subterranean amphibian in the world, naturally living only in the Dinarides;
  • numerous evolutionary and ecologically unique species are found only here;
  • the majority of subterranean species are narrowly distributed, many known from a single locality only;
  • over 1000 subterranean species were registered in this region;
  • the Dinarides reach the highest diversity of different subterranean species per area on a global scale.

Slenderneck beetle (Leptodirus hochenwartii) was the first animal that was recognized as obligate subterranean species already in its scientific description.


Number of groundwater crustacean species within Europe, calculated per 100×100 km squares. Two distinct peaks of species richness, one in northwest and the other in southeast, are obvious within the Western Balkans. Figure is taken from Zagmajster et al. 2014, Global Ecology and Biogeography

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