Contract number



Department of Biology

Type of project

ARIS projects

Type of project

Basic research project




01.09.2020 - 31.08.2023


1.26 FTE

Project manager at BF

Fišer Cene


Scientific background
daptive radiation (AR) is among the most spectacular and the most complex models explaining the origin of biodiversity. In a broad sense, AR stands for a rapid monophyletic species proliferation accompanied by ecological diversification. The idea integrates eco-evolutionary dynamics across different spatio-temporal scales and captures all issues at the forefront of ecology and evolution. We framed herein presented program with three directions of contemporary AR research. First, how common and general ARs are? Simpson suggested that most of life derived from AR, yet the evidence for this claim is controversial. Second, in what circumstances AR emerge? Theoretically, AR is an outcome of an interaction between intrinsic factors (species’ capacity to evolve), and extrinsic factors (unexploited ecological resources). Arguably, interspecific competition drives species’ divergence. Third, how predictable is the course of AR? The development of ecological disparity may be nonrandom, with respect to habitat use, trophic specializations and development of sexual dimorphism.

ARs have been mostly studied in spatially and temporally explicit areas such as islands or lakes; continental studies are rare. No study of AR was made in extreme environments. In the proposed program we are filling this gap, and test for AR in subterranean environment on a continental scale using amphipod Niphargus as a model. It has been thought that the subterranean realm does not provide sufficient ecological opportunity to start AR, and subterranean fauna was long considered as evolutionary dead-end. Recent studies indicate the opposite. We propose that specialization to the subterranean environment had actually led to key innovations, which unlocked the door to “subterranean ecological opportunity”. The past decade of eco-evolutionary research unveiled that Niphargus comprises three elements defining AR: monophyly, massive speciation and ecological disparity, making it an excellent candidate for testing model of AR.

Aims and questions
We will expand speleobiological theories with the general theory of AR in order to provide a mechanistic explanation for continent-wide diversification of Niphargus, and at the same time rigorously test the generality of AR hypotheses using a model system from an extreme environment. Importantly, we aim to develop a fully resolved genus-wide phylogeny using phylogenomic data.



The work will be split into nine work packages. The first three packages are devoted to data collection and primary analyses. These include sample collection, editing distributional database, morphological analyses and species delimitation (WP1, year 1), bait designation, NGS and bioinformatics (WP2, 1-15 month) and phylogenetic analyses (WP3, 16-20 month). 

Hypothesis testing will be furnished within WP4-7. Individual WPs will be split into explorative phases dedicated to testing the methods using available phylogenetic data, analyses on real data and article writing. The studies will progress as follows: tests for AR and its importance (WP4, 7-24 month); the analyses of the role of ecological opportunity and hybridization (WP5, 7-30 month); the analyses of co-occurrences (WP6, independent from phylogenetic analyses, 0-18 month); the analyses of predictability of diversification (WP7, 19-30 month). For each WP we plan one article.

The conclusions of WP4-7 will be summarized in a review article (WP8), the writing of which will start by the end of the project. Throughout the project, we will take care for media coverage (WP9), beginning with release of information through social media, and one popular article per year. The schedule is presented in Table 1. The Slovenian team will meet with foreign informal collaborators three times, first on kick-off meeting (September 2020), in the middle (December 2021) and at the end of the project (June 2023).