Biology of subterranean habitats


Earth and Environmental Sciences (2nd level)

Biodiversity, ecology and evolution (2nd Cycle)

Course code: MIB01
Year of study: none

Course principal:
Prof. Tanja Pipan, Ph. D.


Workload: lectures 30 hours, seminar 30 hours, tutorial 15 hours, field work 15 hours, individual work 135 hours.
Course type: elective
Languages: Slovene, English
Learning and teaching methods: Lectures, field lectures and field work, individual work of a selected investigation and presentation as a seminar work.


Course syllabus (download)


First-cycle Bologna degree or a university degree in the natural sciences.

Content (Syllabus outline):

  • Historical review of speleobiology and modern trends
  • General ecological conditions in different types of subterranean habitats
  • Shallow subterranean habitats: ecology, evolution, conservation
  • Adaptations to subterranean life
  • Sources of energy in subterranean environments
  • Ecological and evolutionary survey of organisms
  • Biotic interactions and community structure
  • Colonization and speciation in subterranean environments: allopatric and parapatric speciation, vicariance and dispersal
  • Biogeography
  • Research methods for biological investigation and collecting of organisms in subterranean habitats
  • Conservation and protection of subterranean habitats and organisms



  • Culver, D. C., & Pipan, T. (2014). Shallow Subterranean Habitats. Ecology, Evolution, and Conservation. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 229.
  • Culver, D. C., & Pipan, T. (2019). The Biology of Caves and Other Subterranean Habitats. Oxford University Press, Oxford, p. 246.
  • Wilkens, H., Culver, D. C., & Humphreys, W. F. (Eds.). (2000). Subterranean ecosystems. Amsterdam: Elsevier, chapters 2, 3, 8, 10, 13, 14, 16.
  • Selected articles from scientific journals.


Objectives and competences:

The primary goal of this course is to provide students with theoretical and practical knowledge for understanding the biology and ecology of subterranean habitats, to present to them examples and case studies of organisms, communities and habitats, and biological processes occurring in these unique environments. Emphasis is also on conservation and management aspects.


Intended learning outcomes:

Students will obtain knowledge on ecological characteristics of subterranean habitats, biotic characteristics of subterranean organisms, history of speleobiology and trends in modern scientific research. They will master practical skills necessary for sampling in subterranean habitats, for ecological research work in subterranean habitats and identification of troglomorphic organisms. Student will get familiar with the research trends in subterranean biology.

Short written seminar and its presentation (50 %), examination (50 %).


Fundamentals of ecology

Prof. Tanja Pipan, Ph. D. ,


Habitats and nature conservation

Assoc. Prof. Urban Šilc, Ph. D. ,