Biodiversity hotspots represent areas or regions with exceptionally high ecosystem, species and genetic diversity. From the Central European perspective, we have such an area literally around the corner. It is the Balkan Peninsula.
The Balkans provided the complex topography with the existence of different mountain reliefs and numerous environmental niches that preserved biodiversity during Pleistocene climatic extremes (Griffiths et al. 2004). The flora and fauna of this region have experienced dramatic shifts in climate and topography during their evolutionary history what is signed in their current genetic and species diversity. Genetically strongly differentiated species that have persisted for a long time within small geographical regions provide a useful model for inferring the presence of microrefugia and differentiation centers within larger refugial areas (Kryštufek et al. 2007). Multiple refugia and a range of lineage ages indicates continuous divergence and speciation over many millions of years to the present (Hewitt 2011). The combination of phylogeographic investigations (study of the historical processes that may be responsible for the contemporary geographic distributions of species based on molecular approaches) and use of herpetofauna as a suitable model organisms (due to their relatively low level of vigilance), we can reconstruct evolutionary histories of particular species or species complexes.
In parallel, the Balkans is phylogeographically less well-studied than Iberia or even the Apennine Peninsula, despite it is richer in species and paleoendemics. Phylogeographic studies have shown that it was not only important Late Miocene and Pliocene radiation center and Pleistocene refugium, but it was also the major source of postglacial colonization of Central and Northern Europe. In other words, current species and genetic diversity of Central European biota would look very different without the Balkans.
A major current focus is to identify patterns of historical biogeography and evolution of amphibians and reptiles within the Balkans. This research integrates data from mitochondrial DNA sequences and nuclear markers with those from pattern analysis with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
My main current study systems are legless lizards of the family Anguidae, more specifically Anguis and Pseudopus, the genus endemic to the Western Palearctic. Besides that, I also attend in natural history, blood parasites, ecology and distribution of amphibians and reptiles in general.