When it comes to the earliest days of biology at the University of Zagreb, what we are really discussing is the development of botany and zoology, the only professions of the time that represented biology from the 17th to the 19th century. However, neither the Jesuit Neo Academia Zagrabiensis (1669-1773), nor the royal Regia Scientiarum Academia (1773-1850), nor the Orthodox Academy (1859-1874) provided the appropriate conditions for the development of scientific and teaching activities in biology in Zagreb. That is why the first scientific discussions in the field of biology were berthed outside of these institutions, and it was in 1780 that the Jesuit Augustin Michelazzi published the Compendium Regni Vegetabilis (Gorizia, 1780), outlining the insights in botany of the time. That same year, Peter Nutrizio Grisogono published the natural geography atlas of Dalmatia, Notizie per servire alla storia naturale della Dalmazia, in which he gave an overview of the fauna of the Adriatic Sea. Increasingly frequent discussions in natural sciences followed soon after, including botany and zoology, i.e. biology. These scientific discussions, along with others, fostered the idea of a need to establish a university such as those that “advanced” nations had. After lengthy debate, the Croatian Parliament established the University (1874), within which three faculties were established. Among them was the Faculty of Philosophy and its Department of Mathematics and Natural Sciences. This year marked the beginning of organised scientific and teaching work at the University of Zagreb as well as the initiation of the systematic development of biology in our country. Gradually, new departments and divisions were established within the Department of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, including the Department of Zoology and the Division of Botany and Physiology. Classes in biology began on 21 April 1876, in the summer semester. That year, only botany professor Dr Bohuslav von Jiruš held classes, whereas zoology professor Dr Spiridion Brusina began doing so in April 1877. The natural sciences within the Faculty of Philosophy were never able to procure sufficient resources for contemporary scientific work, and especially not for experimental work, which is why their aspiration to become independent and transform into a separate faculty was understandable. This was realised in 1946, when the Faculty of Science was founded. Looking back at the development of the Department of Biology during this period, it was undoubtedly the centre of many naturalistic research directions in the Republic of Croatia and the wider region. Initially, the research included two basic directions: botany and zoology.
Research covered all areas of botany and zoology; from cells and organisms to communities. Groundwater ecology and fauna studies were worthy of particular note. During this period, many members of the Department profiled themselves into leading Croatian botanists and zoologists, whose expertise was also recognised internationally. Here we should mention the botanist Prof Radovan Domac, author of Little Flora of Croatia, Prof Beatrice Đulić, whose collection of small mammals is one of the most valuable and interesting in this part of Europe (now owned by the Department), and Prof Milan Meštrov, a pioneer of biospeleological research.
Today, there are five divisions and four collections within the Department of Biology.
The Division of Botany was founded in 1946 with the establishment of the Faculty of Science and together with the Botanical Garden. The history of the Division of Botany begins with the introduction of continuous classes in botany in Zagreb, as far back as during the academic year 1875/1876. Classes were held at the Division of Botany and Physiology, as it was originally called, which was then part of the Faculty of Philosophy. The Division was located in the building of the Upper Town Gymnasium and already then boasted a herbarium collection of 10,000 specimen. From these quite spatially limited premises, the Division was moved to the main University building, the present Rectorate, and later to 20 Marulić Square. At the time of its founding in 1889, the Botanical Garden, together with the Division of Botany and Physiology, was part of the Department of Mathematics and Natural Sciences, Faculty of Philosophy. Research covered all areas of botany and focused on algae, mosses, and vascular plants at the cell, organism, community, and ecosystem levels.
Today, classes at the Division are held in almost all botanical fields included in the curricula and programmes of teaching, undergraduate, and graduate studies of biology as well as interdisciplinary studies at the Department of Biology.
The Division of Zoology was founded in 1874 as the Department of Zoology, and was part of the Faculty of Philosophy from 1875. With the founding of the Faculty of Science, in 1946, it became part of the Department of Biology. At the same time, until 1950, the Division worked together with the Zoological Section of the Croatian National Museum. The Division of Zoology conducts extensive research in various fields of zoology. Limnology research focuses on biocenology, saprobiology, chemistry, and water fauna. Groundwater ecology and fauna studies are worthy of particular note. The work of the Division also revolves around the study of the taxonomy, evolution, molecular phylogeny, and population dynamics and ecology of certain invertebrate (e.g. protozoa, cnidaria, oligochaeta, polychaeta, bryozoa, isopoda, gammarus, copepods, decapods, caddisflies, lepidoptera, diptera, etc.) and vertebrate groups (fish, amphibians, reptiles, and mammals). In addition to investigations into the demersal living communities of the Adriatic Sea, the impact of pollution on their spatial distribution is also monitored. Of particular importance are studies in the fields of histology, histochemistry, embryology, animal cytogenetics, and regeneration of some invertebrates. The Division of Zoology is also renowned for its ecotoxicological research and protection of biological diversity. The Division has a library and a rich collection of zoological preparations and cooperates with many domestic and foreign institutions.
The Division of Animal Physiology was founded in 1963 thanks to the efforts and dedication of Prof Borislav Nakić. Initially, scientific work was focused on the fields of physiology and immunology. Today, the scientific and teaching as well as associate staff are engaged in scientific work within immunohematopoietic system biology, ecotoxicology, radiobiology, tumour biological therapy and metastasis, molecular diagnostics of hereditary diseases in domestic animals, and animal behaviour. Apart from the instruments necessary for teaching and conducting research, the Division also owns a facility where inbred strains of mice and rats are bred.
The Division of Molecular Biology was established in 1989 with the aim of advancing biological research at the molecular level and establishing a study programme in molecular biology. Research at the Division of Molecular Biology is carried out within ten or so research projects. Molecular and biological research is performed on plant and animal models, while research in the fields of biomedicine and bioinformatics is also strong. The Laboratory for Electron Microscopy of the Department of Biology also functions within the premises of the Division.
The Division is responsible for classes within the undergraduate and graduate programmes in Molecular Biology as well as for classes in general courses such as Cell Biology and Genetics within all study programmes of the Department of Biology. In addition to the teaching staff of the Department of Biology, scientists from various institutions, most notably the Ruđer Bošković Division, also participate in holding classes.
The Division of Microbiology was established in 2010, although microbiology has been part of the research and teaching at the Department of Biology for more than half a century. During this time, two laboratories stood out, in which the smallest and simplest biological entities are investigated from the molecular-biological and ecological points of view. The modern concept of biology implies the division of the living world into three areas, two of which (Bacteria, Archaea) are completely and one (Eukarya) is partially the subject of microbiology studies. If we add viruses and subvirus entities to these, and if we take into account the importance of these biological entities as pathogens, dominant environmental and evolutionary factors, pioneering but to this day irreplaceable models in molecular biology, and "tools" in biotechnology and gene therapy, it is rather easy to recognize the particularity and importance of microbiology as a branch of biology.
- The Herbarium Croaticum Collection (ZA)
- The Herbarium Collection of Ivo and Marija Horvat (ZAHO)
- The Collection of the Division of Zoology
- Collection of Mammalian Material – the Đulić Collection
- The Croatian National Collection of Diatoms
The Division of Botany possesses two of the oldest and largest collections of mosses, ferns, and vascular plants in Croatia.
The Herbarium Croaticum Collection (ZA) contains approximately 230,000 specimens collected in Croatia and worldwide over the last 200 years. The collection is located at 20a Marko Marulić Square. It contains over 200,000 herbarium specimens and consists of three separate units:
- World flora Herbarium (Herbarium Generale),
- Herbarium of Croatian flora (Herbarium Croaticum sensu stricto),
- Cryptogam Herbarium (Herbarium Cryptogamicum; algae, fungi, lichens, and mosses).
The ZA collection is constantly updated with new specimens collected by the staff of the Division of Botany and through donations of plant material by many Croatian and foreign botanists.
The Herbarium Collection of Ivo and Marija Horvat (ZAHO) contains 71,611 herbarium sheets collected by Prof Ivo Horvat and arranged by his wife Marija. The collection contains mosses and vascular plants mainly from the territory of the Republic of Croatia, but also from other Balkan countries.
It was originally housed at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine, University of Zagreb, where Prof Horvat worked from 1947 to 1963, then at the former Yugoslavian, today Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts, while currently it is located on 9a Marko Marulić Square, within the Botanical Garden. The ZAHO Collection is no longer updated with new specimens. The herbarium collections of the Department of Biology are a source of information for the national and international botanical community. As part of the work of the herbarium collections:
- the systematization and digitalisation of herbarium specimens is carried out,
- collections are supplemented by new samples,
- collections are maintained by fastening specimens and systematic pest control.
The ZA and ZAHO Herbarium Collections and their virtual herbarium comprising the publicly available and thus far systematised and digitalised herbarium specimens are available at: http://herbariumcroaticum.biol.pmf.hr
Natural history collections are an invaluable source of information in a variety of biological studies. A collection of dried plant specimens with appropriate supporting information and internal organisation is called a herbarium. Herbariums primarily serve researchers working in the systematic botany and taxonomy and flora of an area and provide insight into the diversity of plant taxa, the biodiversity of an area, the distribution of diversity within that area, and population trends in time and space, while highly conserved specimens can be used for molecular and phylogenetic research. In addition to their importance for research, herbariums are also vital in teaching botany, flora, and related subjects because they indicate to students the richness and diversity of the plant world.
The Collection of the Division of Zoology was initiated with the founding of the University of Zagreb (1874) and the Faculty of Philosophy. It currently contains 2182 preparations. Among the preparations for which the year of origin is known, as many as 69 are from the period 1882-1900, 324 from 1901-1950, and 40 from 1951-onward. The value of the Collection is also reflected in the fact that it contains preparations of species that have in the meantime become rare or endangered. Of particular note is the preparation of the upper left canine of the warthog Phacocoerus aethiopicus (Pallas, 1766) and the preparation containing two shark teeth (Carcharodon sp.). The teeth were dug out in 1866 during the construction of the Suez Canal, and they were donated to the Division in 1933 by Leonardo Novaković, who received them from the personal servant of the Canal's chief architect Ferdinand de Lesseps. Another important preparation includes six boxes of sand collected from the bottom of the sea during the Challenger expedition of 1872-1876, with representatives of the Foraminifera and Radiolaria groups. The Collection mainly covers wet and dry invertebrate and vertebrate preparations, and to a lesser extent, models made of plaster, plastic, wax or glass are also represented. In addition to preparations in toto, the Collection contains preparations showing individual animal body parts or skeletons. Some preparations place particular emphasis on the organic systems or the life cycle of a particular species. Apart from species characteristic for Croatia, the Collection also contains specimens originating from Europe and other continents as well as the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Furthermore, the Collection is of great educational importance because the preparations are used as a teaching aid in exercises and lectures in zoological courses (General Zoology, Invertebrates, Vertebrates, Zoology, etc.). The Collection is still being supplemented to this day.
Collection of Mammalian Material – the Đulić Collection
This collection was created during many years of field research on mammals from various habitats in Croatia and the wider region (Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia, Macedonia). It was founded and largely collected by our renowned scientist and professor at the Faculty of Science Dr Beatrica Đulić. The first samples were collected as far back as in the late 1950s. The number of specimens and the number of mammalian species found in it is one of the largest in this part of Europe. The Collection contains the remains or parts of more than 80 species of mammals from Central Europe and the Balkans and comprises several holotypes and paratypes of each species. It consists of more than 15 thousand samples, which are typologically divided according to type of sample. The Collection consists of:
- more than 10,000 mammalian skull specimens,
- several hundred "bulgs" – prepared mammalian skins,
- several thousand mammal skeletons,
- several thousand wet preparations with animals in alcohol.
Quite large batches of small mammals (mice, voles, dormice, and shrews) were collected in the area of Turopoljski lug, Jakuševac, Čazma, and Dalmatian islands. The material in the collection has exceptional scientific and cultural value. Many scholars from Europe and Croatia have used and still use some specimens from the collection as comparative material in their research. The Collection is also of great value for obtaining data on the distribution and biology of mammals in Croatia and Europe as well as on certain changes that have occurred in the last 50 years in the mammalian fauna of Croatia.
The Croatian National Collection of Diatoms was established in 2018 at the Division of Botany of the Department of Biology, Faculty of Science. It is a collection of permanent microscopic preparations collected in Croatia. It currently contains more than 4000 preparations that will be systematised in the near future. The collection is constantly updated with new preparations, most importantly with type materials of new species, described by the staff of the algological laboratory.