We are an enthusiastic and collaborative group of scientists. For us, caves are perfect natural laboratories and we study cave animals from sponges to vertebrates.

We integrate experimental procedures across biological disciplines, from molecular to organismal, and apply diverse methodological approaches both in the lab and in the field to answer important questions in evolutionary biology.

Helena Bilandzija

Helena Bilandzija

PI

My research focuses on identifying molecular mechanisms underlying adaptive evolution in cave-dwelling animals.

I have started my lab at Rudjer Boskovic Institute in Zagreb, Croatia in 2019, where I plan to use comparative evo-devo approaches to study the process of colonization and adaptation to cave environments.

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Jana Bedek

Jana Bedek

Postdoc

My current focus in the lab is understanding the adaptations of various invertebrates to a subterranean lifestyle.

I am also interested in the taxonomy of cave-dwelling Isopoda and have completed a PhD on the taxonomy and molecular phylogeny of the southern European genus Alpioniscus.

I am interested in the conservation of cave fauna in the Dinaric Karst as well.

Researchgate profile

Lada Jovović

Lada Jovović

PhD student

I am a molecular biologist who has always been passionate about evolution as an approach to explaining biodiversity from molecules to entire ecosystems.

For my PhD, I am studying the phenomenon of pigment loss as a common adaptation in cave dwellers. A lot of research has been done on melanin, but I am particularly interested in ommochromes - generally less studied biological pigments first described in the eyes of Drosophila.

I would like to determine the precise molecular mechanisms that lead to albinism as a result of ommochrome deficiency.

In addition, I would like to determine if the loss of ommochromes, similar to the loss of melanin, may be an evolutionarily favored adaptation in cave dwellers because it can enable for a shift of resources (substrates and/or enzyme machinery) to biological processes that are more useful in the stressful and harsh cave environment.

Researchgate profile

Mateo Čupić

Mateo Čupić

PhD student

I joined the lab because of my keen interest in genetics.

In earning my Master of Science degree, I gained skills in experimental laboratory work, many of which I will apply in this research.

Specifically, I will be conducting experiments on the teleost fish Astyanax mexicanus, an ideal model organism for studying evolution in caves and adaptation in such an environment.

My team and I will focus on phenotypic plasticity, where phenotypes change under the influence of environmental variation, and the corresponding molecular mechanisms underlying such changes.

In addition, I will work with many bioinformatics tools, especially those required for the analysis of data from next-generation sequencing.

Researchgate profile

Magdalena Grgić

Magdalena Grgić

PhD student

I am investigating the role and possible alterations of the phenoloxidase system (PO) in the process of pigment loss.

Since PO is an important component of invertebrate immunity, changes in its activity could also contribute to the evolution of some other physiological and behavioural adaptations to cave life.

To understand these processes, I am working on the genus Congeria (Bivalvia, Dreissenidae) - the world's only stygobiont bivalve.

I also participate in the Identification of stygobiotic fauna of Plitvice Lakes National park project.

Researchgate profile

Lucija Kauf

Lucija Kauf

PhD student

During my studies, I developed an interest in cave animals and evolution, which eventually led me to join this group.

I am working on identifying the molecular basis of pigmentation in planarians and the mechanisms of its loss in cave-dwelling species. Depending on the species, this group of animals can have melanin, ommochrome, or porphyrin pigments, and pigmented species often have more than one pigment type. On the other hand, several different species have colonized caves and developed albinism. I will identify the pigment type in surface species and use comparative transcriptomic, genomic, and biochemical approaches to find the cause of the cessation of pigment synthesis in their albino cave-dwelling relatives.

Marko Lukić

Marko Lukić

Expert associate

From my first caving trip, I was fascinated by the strange ecosystems and animals that live in caves.

I became interested in the taxonomy of Collembola and their morphological and behavioral adaptations to the cave environment.

My PhD thesis focused on the systematics and biogeography of the European Collembola genus Verhoeffiella, discovering the radiation of this genus in Dinarid caves.

My role in the lab is to take care of the invertebrate and fish facility, cultivate and breed numerous species under laboratory conditions, and design the innovative experimental setups for the lab projects.

I enjoy observing and filming cave animals and also work on popularizing and preserving cave fauna within the Dinarides.

Researchgate profile

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