Hi! My name is Dušan Jelić and I live in Zagreb, the capital city of a beautiful country called Croatia (Central Europe). I have just become an EDGE Fellow and I am looking forward to working on the olm (Proteus anguinus), as one of the most amazing amphibian species in the world. My project is called ‘The Olm (Proteus anguinus) in Croatia – Conservation Research Project Plan’ and it deals with conservation of the olm, a cave dwelling amphibian, which is also the only completely cave-adapted vertebrate in Europe.
This animal inhabits deep underground waters in cave systems of the Dinaric karst. These habitats are usually completely inaccessible and this is the prime reason why we know so little about this amazing species. The olm is one of the highest ranked European EDGE species (18th place in the Top 100) and is also a EDGE focal species. More research on its status in the Balkan Peninsula (which makes 95% of its whole distribution) is urgently needed.
The olm is only found in the small area of the karst region in north-east Italy, Slovenia, Croatia and Bosnia and Herzegovina. In Croatia it was historically recorded in 55 localities but 12 of these have not been reconfirmed during the last 50 years. The main reason for this is that these animals are only seen by humans when they are accidentally flushed out of caves during strong floods. Only a small number of these caves are also accessible through speleo (cave) diving.
During our project we will be testing a novel method for detecting olms by analysing DNA material in the water that comes out of caves (at springs, wells, etc.). We hope that this method will be a breakthrough in olm detection and will provide us with valuable data on populations we cannot see.
During my Fellowship, I plan to visit multiple sites for the distribution work, but at three selected sites I will perform studies on the population ecology of this species. I hope that these studies will give initial insights in population size, density and demography, and also the olm’s dietary habits and availability of their prey. The other part of my project deals with raising awareness and educating the local people about the olm as this is the only way to protect the highly sensitive underground karstic habitats from pollution and destruction. Many conservation issues can be resolved by talking with people and showing them that this is their national treasure.
Personally, I hope to gain new insights in the mysterious life of this elusive underground animal, known as “the larvae of the Dragon”, that has inspired and dazzled scientists for decades. During the project, I plan to take several cave dives into the olm`s dark habitat and this will be a big personal challenge for me. But I will keep you posted on that through my further blogs…