Jump to content Jump to navigation

Iva Njunjić

Iva Njunjić, Researcher - Endless Forms


Email: iva.njunjic@naturalis.nl
Phone: +31 (0)71-75 17 285
Room number: 3rd fl., Vondellaan 55
“Caves are natural laboratories for evolution.”


I am a researcher at Naturalis Biodiversity Center. I obtained a PhD scholarship by the French Government in 2012 and earned a PhD degree from the Université Paris-Sorbonne at the Muséum National d’Histoire Naturelle (Paris, France) in 2016. Subsequently, together with Prof. Menno Schilthuizen, I have started the company Taxon Expeditions which focuses on education and biodiversity discovery in SE Asia. Earlier in my career, I have worked at Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Serbia and Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia. I have a vast field experience in Europe and Asia. I conducted field work in Malaysia and Japan and I initiated and helped in organizing numerous speleological expeditions in the Balkans. I explored more than 300 caves.


Research interest

My principal research interest is in evolution, adaptation, and speciation in subterranean environment. I combine field surveys and traditional taxonomy with molecular and biometric approaches to answer evolutionary questions regarding correlations between subterranean habitats and adaptive features of cave beetles.

My future research plans are to continue working in the field of subterranean biology, but to broaden the scope of my research by looking for global patterns of evolution and radiation in subterranean environment. Additionally, I have a particular interest in doing alpha taxonomy and biodiversity research in Asia.  


evolution, borneo, biodiversity, systematics, biospeleology, cave beetles, dinaric mountains

Current research topics

1. Cave Biodiversity Conservation in Lower Kinabatangan, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo

Limestone deposits on Borneo exist as hundreds of relatively small, isolated hills in which numerous caves were formed. These caves constitute unique, highly biodiverse, and extremely vulnerable tropical habitats. Cave-adapted organisms live under conditions of permanent darkness and constant temperature. Thus, they are strongly and irreversibly adapted to cave environments, which makes them particularly sensitive to any external interference and environmental disturbance. Unfortunately, such disturbance is taking place: limestone hills in which these caves were formed are being removed because of land-use change or for limestone and marble extraction.

This research aims to use data on richness and endemism of cave beetles and microsnails and information about main threats to subterranean ecosystems to be applied in the conservation of these threatened habitats and in raising environmental awareness among the local community about cave fauna.

Watch a video about this project

Here more info about this project

2. Lifting the taxonomic impediment: Making micro-invertebrates of Sabah accessible

Micro-invertebrates form a group of taxa of crucial importance for the functioning of ecosystems. Yet, due to the taxonomic impediment that hampers the study of these groups, especially in tropical areas, they are rarely included in sufficient detail in ecological projects undertaken in Sabah. We hope to alleviate this impediment by providing a baseline identification system for these taxa, so that studies of macro-ecology and biodiversity conservation (such as the ones carried out at SAFE, Danum valley, and other important field sites in Sabah) may benefit.

3. Cave and karst fauna conservation in Lower Kinabatangan, Sabah, Malaysian Borneo


Louis Deharveng, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France

Michel Perreau, Université Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris, France

Adrien Perrard, Muséum National d'Histoire Naturelle, Paris, France



2016 – present: Lecturer at MSc. course "Tropical Biodiversity" at Danau Girang Field Station, Sabah, Malaysia.

2011 – present: Lecturer at Petnica Science Center, Serbia.

2014 – 2016: Teaching assistant at B.S. course "General and Comparative Zoology" at Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Serbia.

2014 – 2016: Teaching assistant at B.S. course "Morphology and Systematics of Invertebrates" at Faculty of Sciences, University of Novi Sad, Serbia.

Available student projects

Public outreach

Research featured in The Guardian, Forbes, ABC news, Evening Express, USA Today, C|net, and many other international media (2018)

Research featured in national Dutch TV NOS (2018)

Research featured in Scientific Malaysian, The Star, Quest, EOS, Trouw, Leidsch Dagblad (2017)

Blog post "Scientific play is a serious business"about our research on Borneo and our organization Taxon Expeditions published on Naturejobs website (2017).

Research featured in Top ten recently discovered animal species in 2016 by Top 10 archive (2016).

Research featured in NRC (2016).

Research featured in the Guardian (2015).

Research featured in Live Sicence (2015).


Schilthuizen M., Perreau M., Njunjić I. 2018. A review of the Cholevinae from the island of Borneo (Coleoptera, Leiodidae). ZooKeys 777: 57-108. Go to website

Njunjić I., Perrard A, Hendriks K, Schilthuizen M, Perreau M, Merckx V, et al. 2018. Comprehensive evolutionary analysis of the Anthroherpon radiation (Coleoptera, Leiodidae, Leptodirini). PLoS ONE 13(6): e0198367. Go to website

Freitag H, Pangantihon CV, Njunjić I. 2018. Three new species of Grouvellinus Champion, 1923 from Maliau Basin, Sabah, Borneo, discovered by citizen scientists during the first Taxon Expedition (Insecta, Coleoptera, Elmidae). ZooKeys 754: 1–21. Go to website 

Schilthuizen M, Seip LA, Otani S, Suhaimi J, Njunjić I. 2017. Three new minute leaf litter beetles discovered by citizen scientists in Maliau Basin, Malaysian Borneo (Coleoptera: Leiodidae, Chrysomelidae). Biodiversity Data Journal 5: e21947. https://doi.org/10.3897/BDJ.5.e21947 Go to website

Njunjić I., Schilthuizen M., Pavićević D., Perreau M. 2017. Clarifying the puzzling taxonomy of cave beetle genera Remyella and Rozajella (Coleoptera: Leiodidae: Cholevinae: Leptodirini). Arthropod Systematics & Phylogeny, 75 (1):141-158. Go to website

Njunjić I., Perreau M., Hendriks K., Schilthuizen M. & Deharveng L. 2016. The cave beetle genus Anthroherpon is polyphyletic; molecular phylogenetics and description of Graciliella n. gen. (Leiodidae, Leptodirini). Contributions to Zoology, 85(3):337-359. Go to website

Njunjić I., Perreau M. & Pavićević D. 2015. Two new species of the genus Anthroherpon Reitter, 1889 from northern Montenegro with notes on the “A. ganglbaueri” species group (Coleoptera: Leiodidae: Leptodirini). Zootaxa, 3915 (3):403–412. Go to website 

Pavićević D., Njunjić I. & Plećaš M. 2014. Seracamaurops (Seracamaurops) perovici n. sp. (Coleoptera, Staphylinidae, Pselaphinae, Amauropini) from the Northwest Montenegro. Fauna Balkana, Vol. 2, University of Novi Sad, Serbia, pp. 281- 287. Go to website

Pavićević D., Popović M., Komnenov M. & Njunjić I. 2012. Diversity of arthropod fauna in caves and pits of Kamena Gora (Serbia) and its surrondings. Fauna Balkana, Vol.1, University of Novi Sad, Serbia, pp. 151- 176. Go to website

Pavićević D., Popović M., Komnenov M. & Njunjić I. 2012. Rezultati biospeleoloških istraživanja na Kamenoj gori (The results of biospelological researches in Kamena gora). Protection of Nature, Institute for Nature Conservation of Serbia, 61/2, str. 57-76, Belgrade.

Njunjić I., Nešić D., Jović D., Grubač B. & Pavićević D. 2014. Results of the complex speleological research of the cave system Cerjanska pećina in Southeast Serbia. The Book of Abstracts from the 9th EuroSpeleo Forum, Băile Herculane, Romania.

Njunjić I., & Pavićević D. 2012. Parapropus pfeifferi (Leiodidae, Cholevinae, Leptodirini), a poorly known leptodirine from the North West Bosnia. 21st International Conference on Subterranean Biology abstract book 2012, Organizing Committee, 21st International Conference on Subterranean Biology, Košice, Slovakia.

Gajović V., Mandić M., Njunjić I. & Pavićević D. 2011.  Propast u Činiglavcima. The Book of Abstracts from the 7th Symposium on the Protection of Karst, the AcademicSpeleologic - Alpine Club.

Anđelić M., Njunjić I., Jovanović J. & Pavićević D. 2011. Rezultati interdisciplinarnih istraživanja Simine jame (Results of interdisciplinary research of Simina jama), village Gornje Košlje, Ljubovija municipality. The Book of Abstracts from the 7th Symposium on the Protection of Karst, the Academic Speleologic - Alpine Club

Njunjić I., & Pavićević D. 2010. Diversity of troglobiotic beetles (Insecta, Coleoptera) of Krivošije area (Orjen Mt, Montenegro) in the scope of the recent biospeleological investigations. 20th International Conference on Subterranean Biology abstract book 2010, Organizing Committee, 20th International Conference onSubterranean Biology, Postojna, Slovenia.

Anthroherpon cylindricolle

Anthroherpon cylindricolle

My PhD research was focused on taxonomy and evolution in the subterranean environment using troglobitic Coleoptera of the genus Anthroherpon as a model. Anthroherpon is the epitome of the Dinaric cave fauna; all species have leptodiroid body shape and exhibit the most pronounced troglomorphic morphological characters among Coleoptera.

Two new species (18. G. kosovaci and 19. G. ozimeci) of the troglobitic genus Graciliella Njunjić et al., 2016. Genus Graciliella is distributed in subterranean habitats of the Dinaric Mountains in Southeastern Europe.  It was previously included in the genus Anthroherpon but DNA evidence showed that it is actually a more distantly related group of species. The paper in which Graciliella was published gained some media attention, with several stories picking up on the spider-like appearance of these beetles.

Grouvellinus leonardodicaprioi

The new species is named in honour of the actor Leonardo DiCaprio to acknowledge his inspiring work in promoting environmental awareness and bringing the problems of climate change and biodiversity loss into the spotlight. Mr. DiCaprio was honoured by our gesture and made the photo of this beetle his profile photo on facebook.