Projects at the Leibniz-IZW

Scientific projects comprise the core of our research programme. Of particular importance are our long-term projects which integrate field studies, laboratory work, biobanking, data analysis, mathematical modelling and communication and study co-design with stakeholders.

Projects sorted by departments

Projects lead in the Department of Evolutionary Ecology

Department of Evolutionary Ecology

Evolutionary ecology research for species conservation

The Department Evolutionary Ecology investigates the influence of social, ecological and anthropogenic environments on the survival and reproductive success of wild animals. Ultimately, we aim to evaluate the adaptability of free-ranging wildlife populations to environmental changes such as climate and land use changes. We focus on long-term field studies in Europe and Africa, where we investigate multiple generations of individuals with known life-histories. We use high-throughput GPS and telemetry for spatial tracking alongside behavioural and physiological biologging. We apply minimally-invasive methods such as stable isotopes and nutritional analyses; services we also offer to external collaborators. >> More information

Evidence-based solutions for the farmer-cheetah conflict in Namibia

Conflicts between humans, their livestock and carnivores are globally widespread. Developing sustainable solutions is challenging, particularly for threatened carnivore species. We demonstrate with the example of cheetahs in Namibia how detailed information on spatial movements of cheetahs can be used by farmers to adapt their cattle management. This results in substantial decrease of cattle losses and thus in reduced killing of cheetahs by farmers.

Movement ecology of common noctule bats in anthropogenic landscapes

The research of this project is dedicated to the questions of how highly mobile species such as the common noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula) survive in intensively used farmland or in city landscapes and which factors influence individual behaviour and local populations.

Behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology of the spotted hyena population in the Ngorongoro Crater

How – and how well – do group-living animals respond to social and environmental change? To address this question, we study the evolution of social behaviour and behavioural and evolutionary processes shaping the life history and fitness of group-living animals using an entire population of wild spotted hyenas (eight groups, more than 2500 individuals) that we have been monitoring since 1996 and for which we compiled an almost complete genetic pedigree across nine generations.

Evidence-based habitat and species protection of African and Asian rhinos

Rhinos are severely threatened by poaching and the loss of their habitat. As a consequence, the remaining individuals are confined to small, fractured populations. This project investigates the reasons for this drastic decline and attempts to identify solutions that may prevent imminent extinction events.

Physiology, ecology and conservation of migratory bats

In this project the researchers investigate how migratory bats find their way when traveling over thousands of kilometres each year and which specific threats they are exposed to when moving across anthropogenically shaped landscapes.

Behaviour, genetics, and protection of urban and suburban hedgehogs

This project aims to investigate whether rural and urban hedgehogs or different urban populations differ in lifestyle. Furthermore it focusses on whether and how concentrated human activities influence the behaviour of urban hedgehogs.

The effect of artificial light at night on nocturnal mammals

Surface area lit by artificial light at night increases by 2 percent each year. In this project we investigate how nocturnal animals such as bats respond to the illumination and which solutions we can offer to mitigate or compensate the potentially detrimental effects of light pollution on bats.

Good reproduction and health status in a genetically monomorphic species, the cheetah

In this project we investigate the effect of the low genetic variability of cheetahs on their reproductive performance and their health status. We demonstrate that free-ranging cheetahs reproduce successfully and have a strong immune system despite their genetic monomorphism. We also demonstrate that breeding challenges of captive cheetahs can be improved with a well-directed management.

Powering endurance: Fuel selection in migratory bats

The aim of this project is to investigate, why bats and birds seem to have similar adaptations in their metabolic physiology to migrate over long distances.

 
Projects lead in the Department of Evolutionary Genetics

Department of Evolutionary Genetics

Evolutionary epi-/genetic research for species conservation by bridging genotype and phenotype

The Department of Evolutionary Genetics studies mammalian evolutionary diversity. We aim to understand how past conditions have shaped current mammalian diversity and how it will change in the future. We focus on four facets of mammalian diversity — adaptive genetic variation, neutral genetic variation, epigenetic variation, and life-history variation — to answer fundamental questions. Besides establishment and application of modern molecular methods to pursue these aims we also develop open source software, curate two large reference sample collections, and administrate jointly with five regional partners the Berlin Center for Genomics in Biodiversity Research (BeGenDiv).>> More information

Comparative environmental epigenomics in wildlife

Epigenetic changes function as flexible mechanisms to increase a species' adaptability to environmental changes, but past studies have focused mostly on maternal effects. Here we study parental transmitted epigenetic responses and ask also if different environmental changes invoke different or similar responses.

The genomic basis of convergent evolution in modern sloths

The sloth lifestyle of hanging from trees has actually evolved independently two times. The convergent anatomical and physiological changes have an unknown genetics basis. We are triying to understand this by comparing high-quality whole genome sequences from living sloths.

Novel computational methods in wildlife research

Many of our research projects require new computational methods for processing and evaluating the data obtained. We develop these analysis tools either ourselves or in cooperation with partners, and also make them available to third parties.

Inferring genetic patterns of on-going recolonization of Central Europe by elusive, large carnivores

By developing SNP marker systems to genetically monitor European carnivores, we provide tools to understand how these elusive species co-exist with humans and recolonize densely populated areas with intensive land-use. In this network project, research at the IZW focused on the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and the Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos).

Adaptive genetic variation in mustelid species

Closely related species differ in the number genes contained in their genomes. We study this type of genomic variation in the context of habitat adaptation in mustelids.

Epigenetic stability and plasticity of social environmental effects

Epigenetic modifications function as flexible mechanisms to increase a species' adaptability to environmental changes. Such changes may also involve the social environment. Therefore we want to know, if a certain social status is reflected by a specific (for that status) epigenetic pattern.

The origin of the last remaining wild horses

Przewalski’s horses are listed as last wild species of horses, but genome studies demonstrate that all remaining specimens of Przewalski’s horses are descendants of formerly domesticated animals.

 
Projects lead in the Department of Wildlife Diseases

Department of Wildlife Diseases

       Research on wildlife diseases for species conservation

The Department Wildlife Diseases investigates diseases relevant to free-ranging and captive wildlife. We study the evolutionary, ecological and anthropogenic factors that drive pathogen adaptation and variability of host responses to different wildlife diseases. This enables us to distinguish species-specific factors from the general principles of infectious disease biology. Our work is interdisciplinary in the fields of bacteriology, immunology, parasitology, pathology, toxicology and virology. In addition, we offer diagnostic and research-oriented services, especially bacteriology and pathology, for internal and external partners. >> More information

Characterization of the retroviral germline invasions using the koala retrovirus as a model

We use the koala retrovirus to understand how viruses, retroviruses in particular, have shaped a large part of vertebrate genomes, what the consequences of the process are for the host, and identify host defence mechanisms.

Health status and diseases in the middle European lowland wolf population

Wolves in Germany are predominantly in the area of conflict between hunters, cattle and sheep breeders, nature conservation associations, politics and the general public. The Leibniz-IZW provides evidence-based research results that form the basis for wolf management in Germany.

Eco-immunology of carnivores with low immunogenetic diversity

In this project we study the immune phenotype as well as the parasites and pathogens of two feline species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus).

Environmental pathogen transmission

In this project we are examining whether water can act as viral vector for mammals under conditions of seasonal water shortage. We are also examining water as a non-invasive resource for host and virus identification and characterization.

Diseases in wildlife from Germany

Our research combines pathological and microbiological investigations of deceased wild animals from Germany to gain relevant insights into the health status and the presence of infectious agents in native species.

Emerging bacterial infectious agents

In this project we perform cross-sectional studies on novel bacterial strains isolated from wildlife species to understand their importance and adaptability to specific hosts and to provide solutions for a reliable identification. Our research combines the expertise from veterinary pathologists as well as microbiologists of veterinary science universities, national reference and federal state laboratories.

Leibniz Research Alliance “Infections’21”: Water as a vector for pathogen transmission

The Leibniz Research Alliance Infections’21 examines modes of pathogen transmission relevant to the 21st century. Within this alliance we investigate water as a vector for pathogen transmission.

Sea eagle health monitoring

The largest eagle in Europe reacts sensitively to environmental pollution and is therefore monitored in its health and population development.

Arctic carnivore health

Arctic regions are one of the most affected by climate change, first evidences being noted already in the 1980s. However information on wildlife population health is still limited and requires continuous monitoring.

Bat immunology

Chiroptera is the second largest mammalian group after rodents, bats possessing unique physiological adaptations with relevance to their disease susceptibility and reservoir competence. In this project we aim to describe and understand the factors influencing intra- and interspecies variability in bat’s immunity.

AMIKOS – Antimicrobial concepts for artificial insemination

AMIKOS is a third-party funded joint project with the aim of developing a feasible low-temperature storage concept for liquid preservation of boar semen that allows antibiotic-free artificial inseminations. The project partners combine in this approach their long experience in the fields of spermatology, microbiology, reproduction medicine and technology.

Emerging viruses in the Amazon basin

The project “WildEmerg” investigates the presence, prevalence and diversity of viruses in South American wildlife and mosquitoes.

Pleistocene immunogenetics

We are using ancient DNA to understand the evolutionary dynamics of immune genes in woolly mammoths and look for signatures of selection, possibly indicating emergence of pathogens at the time that mammoth populations declined eventually leading to their extinction.

 
Projects lead in the Department of Reproduction Biology

Department of Reproduction Biology

Understanding reproductive characteristics and strategies for the benefit of species conservation

The Department Reproductive Biology investigates reproductive traits and the impact of environmental factors on fertility.

We study the development and maturation of germ cells, their functional interactions in the male and female genital tract and the endocrine regulation of reproductive processes. Our research also focuses on the long-term preservation of germ cells and gonadal tissues of wildlife animals, and on the determination of hormones in diverse matrices, like serum, faeces, urine, hair and cell culture medium.We apply modern methods of cell biology, biochemistry, endocrinology and chemical analysis. We pass on our expert knowledge to young scientists and practitioners in workshops, summer schools and at self-organized and co-organized conferences. >> More information

Reproduction biology of lynx – basic research for conservation breeding of Iberian lynx

With this project we are scientific partners of the conservation breeding program for the Iberian lynx. This felid was the most endangered feline species and due to the captive breeding and reintroduction efforts the population on the Iberian Peninsula has been stabilized.

Biobanking for assisted reproduction techniques

Assisted reproduction techniques help to maintain the biodiversity. In particular the cryopreservation of gametes is an essential option to preserve the genetic diversity of wild animals and to support breeding programs in zoos.

Wildlife endocrinology

Wildlife endocrinology is largely based on non-invasive monitoring of reproductive and adrenocortical hormones of zoo-and wildlife. Our laboratory has the expertise, reagents and instruments availalbe for related research and is experienced in method development and validation for a variety of species and matrices. Most commonly explored matrices in our laboraty are faeces, urine and hair.

Functional biodiversity of cells belonging to the reproductive system

The evolution of reproductive strategies causes species-specific peculiarities of reproductive processes. The function of cells within the reproductive tracts may also change in dependence of development, cycle or season. We analyse the basic cellular and molecular processes to understand the functional adaptations in reproduction.

Signatures of fe-/male fertility

By comparing genomes of high fertility mouse lines with genomes of non-selected mice we aim to identify signatures of selection (= occurrence and frequency patterns of alleles causal for the selected reproductive trait). General applicability of results will then be tested in other mammal species (pigs, lions). Sperm parameters to correlate male fertility will be evaluated.

Paternal epigenetic effects

Heritable epigenetic changes, or transgenerational effects, are the result of the fixation of epigenetic markers in the genome of gametes as a result of environmental impacts. To identify paternal effects, we test in the wild guinea pig (Cavia aperea) whether alterations of environmental conditions lead to changes in the methylation patterns in tissues of fathers and their male offspring.

Projects lead in the Department of Reproduction Management

Department of Reproduction Management

Research and development for new reproduction technologies for conservation

The Department of Reproduction Management investigates reproductive strategies and human-induced reproductive disorders in free-living and captive non-domestic animals. By intensive use of imaging techniques and further development of assisted reproduction technologies and stem cell-associated techniques, we develop new species conservation strategies. Our research activities also include ethical and animal welfare aspects. Our department is responsible for the observance of "good veterinary practice" in all animal experiments at the Leibniz-IZW. Furthermore, we offer research-associated veterinary support for zoos, wildlife rescue and rehabilitation centres. >> More information

BioRescue – Advanced reproductive technologies for saving critically endangered mammals like the northern white rhinoceros

Only two Northern white rhinos are left in the world, both are females. Can we still save these animals from extinction? Together with international partners from science and conservation the BioRescue consortium aims at making the seemingly impossible a reality by developing advanced methods of assisted reproduction (aART) and stem cell associated techniques (SCAT).

The naked mole rat – An alternative model species for biomedical ageing research

Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are hardly mentioned in the list of the most beautiful animals. Nevertheless, they have an extraordinary reproductive system, are resistant to cancer and oxygen deprivation and (healthyly) grow astonishingly old, considering their small body size. What mechanisms underly these enviable skills?

Strengthening scientific approaches in wildlife welfare

With its expertise in animal welfare, the Leibniz-IZW contributes to an appropriate management of animals in human care and significantly improves science-based approaches and methods for it.

Translational research for developing assisted reproduction technologies for endangered mammals

The EUROVA consortium aims at developing new techniques and methods for in vitro maturation (IVM) of oocytes, in vitro fertilization (IVF) and in vitro culture (IVC) of embryos. These may be used to advance new conservation tools for highly endangered mammals, such as the endangered rhinoceros family.

Captive breeding in giant pandas – Bridging between innovative ART and reproductive biology

We aim to elucidate the secrets of giant panda reproductive biology - particularly the regulation of diapause - employing assisted reproduction techniques (ART) and subsequent in vitro modelling. The acquired knowledge will help to develop embryo transfer protocols in pseudo pregnant females.

Frozen Dumbo – Establishment of the first large scale semen cryobank for wild African elephants and other endangered species

This project advances techniques for artificial insemination and sperm cryopreservation of both African and Asian elephants. With these methods at hand, population managers can enrich captive or isolated wild elephant populations without removing valuable individuals from their natural habitat.

Towards the next level of biobanking

While biodiversity is decreasing at an alarming rate, cryobanks contribute to preserving the ‘library of life‘. Our large-scale bio-cryobank, including not only tissues, but also gametes, fibroblasts, induced pluripotent stem cells, embryonal stem cells and embryos, is planned to be upgraded to an automated, fully digitized system.

Computed tomography in wildlife medicine and research for conservation

Computed tomography at the Leibniz-IZW - an unusual insight into wild animals and fossils: using state of the art imaging, from classic representation of morphology to the visualization of dynamic processes, we answer clinical as well as scientific questions regarding animal welfare, veterinary clinical diagnostics, and basic research.

Projects lead in the Department of Ecological Dynamics

Department of Ecological Dynamics

Understanding ecological dynamics in space and time

The Department of Ecological Dynamics investigates how individuals, populations or species communities "behave" in space and time and under various anthropogenically modified environmental conditions. We seek understanding on what affects the viability of animal populations along a gradient of anthropogenically altered landscapes and habitats. In particular, through statistical modelling and dynamic simulations we aim to advance theory and concepts in ecology and evolution, and to promote the development of computational and analytical toolkits. Based on this, we make predictions about the future states of populations and communities and improve concepts for nature conservation at the landscape scale. To transfer our research findings, we work closely together with local conservationists and stakeholders. >> More information

Stability of wildlife populations under global change and across levels of organisation

To understand how populations and communities react to global change we study how their traits and their stability are affected by disturbances.

Setting conservation priorities in the Annamite mountains of Laos and Vietnam

The exceptional biodiversity and endemism of the Annamite region of Vietnam and Laos is threatened substantially by illegal hunting. We use state of the art systemic biodiversity surveys and statistical models to identify the last strongholds of wildlife.

Health, demography, ecological dynamics and anthropogenic effects on spotted hyeans in the Serengeti National Park

We study the behaviour, ecology and health of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) in the Serengeti National Park since 1987, and currently hold detailed information on more than 2300 individuals in three clans.

Population dynamics and conservation of large carnivores in anthropogenic landscapes

Large carnivores face significant challenges in human-dominated landscapes. We use individual-based models to analyse their population genetics, their population dynamics and their viability.

Epigenetic stability and plasticity of social environmental effects

Epigenetic modifications function as flexible mechanisms to increase a species' adaptability to environmental changes. Such changes may also involve the social environment. Therefore we want to know, if a certain social status is reflected by a specific (for that status) epigenetic pattern.

Theory and methods in ecology and evolution

We are constantly improving our analytical tool box by developing and refining methods for data collection, handling and analysis in order to deepen our understanding of ecological dynamics in wildlife.

Wildlife disease dynamics: Linking host and pathogen traits

Pathogens are an integral part of biodiversity, influencing population dynamics of their hosts and playing an important functional role in shaping community structure. We study how different movement types and life-history strategies of species affect disease spread, persistence and evolution.

Mammalian biodiversity in logged tropical rainforest in Malaysian Borneo

In the last decades Malaysian Borneo experienced the highest rates of rainforest loss and degradation through unsustainable logging. We study how faunal biodiversity is affected by this and try to contribute to a more sustainable management of the currently used concessions.

Urban wildlife ecology: How do animals respond to novel environments?

Urban environments provide new challenges to wildlife but also new opportunities. We study how our wild housemates perform in urban environments, what they use and need.

Projects sorted by programme goals

Programme goal: Traits

Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations

The research focus on traits and evolutionary adaptations is an essential component of the Leibniz-IZW Research Programme and directly contributes to the institute’s mission of conducting evolutionary wildlife research for conservation. With this mission we work towards the vision of understanding and improving the adaptability of wildlife in the face of global change.

To deal with environmental challenges, wildlife have to use their “evolutionary equipment”, i.e. the traits which they possess. Therefore, to predict the potential of wildlife species to adapt to environmental change, it is necessary to find out which adaptations are available with which wildlife responds to changes in the environment. We also need to understand whether constraints and trade-offs hinder appropriate responses to environmental change and how responses may differ depending on the duration of these changes. To do this, we use insights about past evolutionary processes to forecast wildlife responses. Here we also look at traits of pathogens relevant to their wildlife hosts.

Comparative environmental epigenomics in wildlife

Epigenetic changes function as flexible mechanisms to increase a species' adaptability to environmental changes, but past studies have focused mostly on maternal effects. Here we study parental transmitted epigenetic responses and ask also if different environmental changes invoke different or similar responses.

Characterization of the retroviral germline invasions using the koala retrovirus as a model

We use the koala retrovirus to understand how viruses, retroviruses in particular, have shaped a large part of vertebrate genomes, what the consequences of the process are for the host, and identify host defence mechanisms.

Functional biodiversity of cells belonging to the reproductive system

The evolution of reproductive strategies causes species-specific peculiarities of reproductive processes. The function of cells within the reproductive tracts may also change in dependence of development, cycle or season. We analyse the basic cellular and molecular processes to understand the functional adaptations in reproduction.

BioRescue – Advanced reproductive technologies for saving critically endangered mammals like the northern white rhinoceros

Only two Northern white rhinos are left in the world, both are females. Can we still save these animals from extinction? Together with international partners from science and conservation the BioRescue consortium aims at making the seemingly impossible a reality by developing advanced methods of assisted reproduction (aART) and stem cell associated techniques (SCAT).

Stability of wildlife populations under global change and across levels of organisation

To understand how populations and communities react to global change we study how their traits and their stability are affected by disturbances.

Movement ecology of common noctule bats in anthropogenic landscapes

The research of this project is dedicated to the questions of how highly mobile species such as the common noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula) survive in intensively used farmland or in city landscapes and which factors influence individual behaviour and local populations.

The genomic basis of convergent evolution in modern sloths

The sloth lifestyle of hanging from trees has actually evolved independently two times. The convergent anatomical and physiological changes have an unknown genetics basis. We are triying to understand this by comparing high-quality whole genome sequences from living sloths.

Health status and diseases in the middle European lowland wolf population

Wolves in Germany are predominantly in the area of conflict between hunters, cattle and sheep breeders, nature conservation associations, politics and the general public. The Leibniz-IZW provides evidence-based research results that form the basis for wolf management in Germany.

The naked mole rat – An alternative model species for biomedical ageing research

Naked mole rats (Heterocephalus glaber) are hardly mentioned in the list of the most beautiful animals. Nevertheless, they have an extraordinary reproductive system, almost never get cancer, cope surprisingly well with oxygen deprivation and (healthyly) grow very old, considering their small body size. What mechanisms underly these enviable skills?

Behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology of the spotted hyena population in the Ngorongoro Crater

How – and how well – do group-living animals respond to social and environmental change? To address this question, we study the evolution of social behaviour and behavioural and evolutionary processes shaping the life history and fitness of group-living animals using an entire population of wild spotted hyenas (eight groups, more than 2500 individuals) that we have been monitoring since 1996 and for which we compiled an almost complete genetic pedigree across nine generations.

Eco-immunology of carnivores with low immunogenetic diversity

In this project we study the immune phenotype as well as the parasites and pathogens of two feline species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus).

Health, demography, ecological dynamics and anthropogenic effects on spotted hyeans in the Serengeti National Park

We study the behaviour, ecology and health of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) in the Serengeti National Park since 1987, and currently hold detailed information on more than 2300 individuals in three clans.

WTimpact – Citizen Science as a tool for knowledge transfer

In this interdisciplinary project we investigate which factors influence learning and the emotional attitude of participants in Citizen Science projects. We want to find out whether Citizen Science can be used as a tool for knowledge transfer and which success factors are important for this.

 
Programme goal: Health

Understanding wildlife health and disturbed homeostasis

The research focus on wildlife health is an essential component of the Leibniz-IZW Research Programme and directly contributes to the institute’s mission of conducting evolutionary wildlife research for conservation. With this mission we work towards the vision of understanding and improving the adaptability of wildlife in the face of global change.

In our vision to understand adaptability, wildlife health is a major factor. Diseases can render populations more vulnerable to environmental change, and conversely, anthropogenic impacts can make wildlife more susceptible to disease. We investigate how individuals cope with allostatic load (“stress”), infectious as well as non-infectious diseases and how these factors interact with (other) environmental change(s).

Comparative environmental epigenomics in wildlife

Epigenetic changes function as flexible mechanisms to increase a species' adaptability to environmental changes, but past studies have focused mostly on maternal effects. Here we study parental transmitted epigenetic responses and ask also if different environmental changes invoke different or similar responses.

Characterization of the retroviral germline invasions using the koala retrovirus as a model

We use the koala retrovirus to understand how viruses, retroviruses in particular, have shaped a large part of vertebrate genomes, what the consequences of the process are for the host, and identify host defence mechanisms.

Health status and diseases in the middle European lowland wolf population

Wolves in Germany are predominantly in the area of conflict between hunters, cattle and sheep breeders, nature conservation associations, politics and the general public. The Leibniz-IZW provides evidence-based research results that form the basis for wolf management in Germany.

Behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology of the spotted hyena population in the Ngorongoro Crater

How – and how well – do group-living animals respond to social and environmental change? To address this question, we study the evolution of social behaviour and behavioural and evolutionary processes shaping the life history and fitness of group-living animals using an entire population of wild spotted hyenas (eight groups, more than 2500 individuals) that we have been monitoring since 1996 and for which we compiled an almost complete genetic pedigree across nine generations.

Eco-immunology of carnivores with low immunogenetic diversity

In this project we study the immune phenotype as well as the parasites and pathogens of two feline species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus).

Wildlife endocrinology

Wildlife endocrinology is largely based on non-invasive monitoring of reproductive and adrenocortical hormones of zoo-and wildlife. Our laboratory has the expertise, reagents and instruments availalbe for related research and is experienced in method development and validation for a variety of species and matrices. Most commonly explored matrices in our laboraty are faeces, urine and hair.

Strengthening scientific approaches in wildlife welfare

With its expertise in animal welfare, the Leibniz-IZW contributes to an appropriate management of animals in human care and significantly improves science-based approaches and methods for it.

Health, demography, ecological dynamics and anthropogenic effects on spotted hyeans in the Serengeti National Park

We study the behaviour, ecology and health of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) in the Serengeti National Park since 1987, and currently hold detailed information on more than 2300 individuals in three clans.

Programme goal: Challenges

Understanding the environmental context

The research focus on environmental challenges is an essential component of the Leibniz-IZW Research Programme and directly contributes to the institute’s mission of conducting evolutionary wildlife research for conservation. With this mission we work towards the vision of understanding and improving the adaptability of wildlife in the face of global change.

In order to assess how wildlife will respond to environmental change, we need to understand what exactly the challenges are. Work in this programme goal focuses on species interactions (e.g., with pathogens or invasive species) as well as anthropogenic influences such as land-use change, human-wildlife conflicts or climate change. We also use our insights to identify and clarify conservation challenges, often through dialogue with stakeholders and society at large.

Evidence-based solutions for the farmer-cheetah conflict in Namibia

Conflicts between humans, their livestock and carnivores are globally widespread. Developing sustainable solutions is challenging, particularly for threatened carnivore species. We demonstrate with the example of cheetahs in Namibia how detailed information on spatial movements of cheetahs can be used by farmers to adapt their cattle management. This results in substantial decrease of cattle losses and thus in reduced killing of cheetahs by farmers.

Comparative environmental epigenomics in wildlife

Epigenetic changes function as flexible mechanisms to increase a species' adaptability to environmental changes, but past studies have focused mostly on maternal effects. Here we study parental transmitted epigenetic responses and ask also if different environmental changes invoke different or similar responses.

BioRescue – Advanced reproductive technologies for saving critically endangered mammals like the northern white rhinoceros

There are only two Northern white rhinos left in the world, both are females. To save these animals from extinction seems impossible under these circumstances. Together with international partners from science and conservation the BioRescue consortium aims at making the seemingly impossible a reality and develops advanced methods of assisted reproduction (aART) and stem cell associated techniques (SCAT). These new methods will be implemented immediately as new science-based interventions for conservation.

Stability of wildlife populations under global change and across levels of organization

To understand how populations and communities react to global change we study how their traits and their stability are affected by disturbances.

Movement ecology of common noctule bats in anthropogenic landscapes

The research of this project is dedicated to the questions of how highly mobile species such as the common noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula) survive in intensively used farmland or in city landscapes and which factors influence individual behaviour and local populations.

Health status and diseases in the middle European lowland wolf population

Wolves in Germany are predominantly in the area of conflict between hunters, cattle and sheep breeders, nature conservation associations, politics and the general public. The Leibniz-IZW provides evidence-based research results that form the basis for wolf management in Germany.

The naked mole rat – An alternative model species for biomedical ageing research

We investigate the evolutionary adaptations regarding the ageing strategies of non-model species, with a special focus on the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) of which we keep and successfully breed ~400 animals in 12 colonies at Leibniz-IZW. This eusocial, mouse-sized rodent displays extraordinary cancer and hypoxia resistance, exceptional longevity and a unique reproductive system. Together with an interdisciplinary and international network of collaboration partners within the Leibniz Research Alliance ‘Healthy Ageing’ we examine the underlying physiological processes on the transcriptomic, biochemical and behavioural level.

Setting conservation priorities in the Annamite mountains of Laos and Vietnam

The exceptionally biodiversity and endemism of the Annamite region of Vietnam and Laos is threatened substantially by illegal hunting. We use state of the art systemic biodiversity surveys and statistical models to identify the last strongholds of wildlife.

Behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology of the spotted hyena population in the Ngorongoro Crater

How – and how well – do group-living animals respond to social and environmental change? To address this question, we study the evolution of social behaviour and behavioural and evolutionary processes shaping the life history and fitness of group-living animals using an entire population of wild spotted hyenas (eight groups, more than 2500 individuals) that we have been monitoring since 1996 and for which we compiled an almost complete genetic pedigree across nine generations.

Eco-immunology of carnivores with low immunogenetic diversity

In this project we study the immune phenotype as well as the parasites and pathogens of two feline species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus).

Strengthening scientific approaches in wildlife welfare

With its expertise in animal welfare, the Leibniz-IZW contributes to an appropriate management of animals in human care and significantly improves science-based approaches and methods for it.

Health, demography, ecological dynamics and anthropogenic effects on spotted hyenas in the Serengeti National Park

We study the behaviour, ecology and health of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) in the Serengeti National Park since 1987, and currently hold detailed information on more than 2300 individuals in three clans.

WTimpact – Citizen Science as a tool for knowledge transfer

In this interdisciplinary project we investigate which factors influence learning and the emotional attitude of participants in Citizen Science projects. We want to find out whether Citizen Science can be used as a tool for knowledge transfer and which success factors are important for this.

 
Programme goal: Conservation

Improving population viability

The research focus on improving population viability is an essential component of the Leibniz-IZW Research Programme and directly contributes to the institute’s mission of conducting evolutionary wildlife research for conservation. With this mission we work towards the vision of understanding and improving the adaptability of wildlife in the face of global change.

Based on a comprehensive understanding of the evolutionary equipment of wildlife and the challenges they face, we develop novel concepts and methods for conservation. We aim to improve population viability on different levels: We develop the scientific basis for conservation decisions and transfer recommendations to conservationists, wildlife professionals, zoological gardens and policy makers. Science-based veterinary interventions are performed directly by Leibniz-IZW staff, e.g., in assisted reproduction. In addition, we implement research projects with stakeholder dialogue as an integral part, in which stakeholders are involved in all stages, from formulating research questions to discussion of the results. Finally, we use our competence in modelling to forecast the consequences of anthropogenic impacts and the success of potential conservation measures.

Evidence-based solutions for the farmer-cheetah conflict in Namibia

Conflicts between humans, their livestock and carnivores are globally widespread. Developing sustainable solutions is challenging, particularly for threatened carnivore species. We demonstrate with the example of cheetahs in Namibia how detailed information on spatial movements of cheetahs can be used by farmers to adapt their cattle management. This results in substantial decrease of cattle losses and thus in reduced killing of cheetahs by farmers.

Reproduction biology of lynx – basic research for conservation breeding of Iberian lynx

Similar to other big predators, Lynx play an important ecological role. The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus Temminck, 1827) was declared as critically endangered (IUCN 2002). We are scientific partners of the conservation breeding program for the Iberian lynx. Due to the captive breeding and reintroduction efforts the lynx population on the Iberian peninsula has been stabilized, hereby unequivocally contributing to the conservation of the local biodiversity. 

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BioRescue – Advanced reproductive technologies for saving critically endangered mammals like the northern white rhinoceros

There are only two Northern white rhinos left in the world, both are females. To save these animals from extinction seems impossible under these circumstances. Together with international partners from science and conservation the BioRescue consortium aims at making the seemingly impossible a reality and develops advanced methods of assisted reproduction (aART) and stem cell associated techniques (SCAT). These new methods will be implemented immediately as new science-based interventions for conservation.

Movement ecology of common noctule bats in anthropogenic landscapes

The research of this project is dedicated to the questions of how highly mobile species such as the common noctule bat (Nyctalus noctula) survive in intensively used farmland or in city landscapes and which factors influence individual behaviour and local populations.

Health status and diseases in the middle European lowland wolf population

Wolves in Germany are predominantly in the area of conflict between hunters, cattle and sheep breeders, nature conservation associations, politics and the general public. The Leibniz-IZW provides evidence-based research results that form the basis for wolf management in Germany.

Biobanking for assisted reproduction techniques

Assisted reproduction techniques help to maintain the biodiversity. In particular the cryopreservation of gametes is an essential option to preserve the genetic diversity of wild animals and to support breeding programs in zoos.

Setting conservation priorities in the Annamite mountains of Laos and Vietnam

The exceptionally biodiversity and endemism of the Annamite region of Vietnam and Laos is threatened substantially by illegal hunting. We use state of the art systemic biodiversity surveys and statistical models to identify the last strongholds of wildlife.

Behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology of the spotted hyena population in the Ngorongoro Crater

How – and how well – do group-living animals respond to social and environmental change? To address this question, we study the evolution of social behaviour and behavioural and evolutionary processes shaping the life history and fitness of group-living animals using an entire population of wild spotted hyenas (eight groups, more than 2500 individuals) that we have been monitoring since 1996 and for which we compiled an almost complete genetic pedigree across nine generations.

Wildlife endocrinology

Wildlife endocrinology is largely based on non-invasive monitoring of reproductive and adrenocortical hormones of zoo-and wildlife. Our laboratory has the expertise, reagents and instruments availalbe for related research and is experienced in method development and validation for a variety of species and matrices. Most commonly explored matrices in our laboraty are faeces, urine and hair.

 
Programme goal: Tools

Development of theory, methods and tools

The focus on the development of new methods and tools is an essential component of the Leibniz-IZW Research Programme and directly contributes to the institute’s mission of conducting evolutionary wildlife research for conservation. With this mission we work towards the vision of understanding and improving the adaptability of wildlife in the face of global change.

We contribute to advancing the research fields in which we operate conceptually, by developing novel perspectives and theory. In addition, we regularly improve existing or develop new methodological tools and invest effort to make new developments available to the scientific community.

Evidence-based solutions for the farmer-cheetah conflict in Namibia

Conflicts between humans, their livestock and carnivores are globally widespread. Developing sustainable solutions is challenging, particularly for threatened carnivore species. We demonstrate with the example of cheetahs in Namibia how detailed information on spatial movements of cheetahs can be used by farmers to adapt their cattle management. This results in substantial decrease of cattle losses and thus in reduced killing of cheetahs by farmers.

BioRescue – Advanced reproductive technologies for saving critically endangered mammals like the northern white rhinoceros

There are only two Northern white rhinos left in the world, both are females. To save these animals from extinction seems impossible under these circumstances. Together with international partners from science and conservation the BioRescue consortium aims at making the seemingly impossible a reality and develops advanced methods of assisted reproduction (aART) and stem cell associated techniques (SCAT). These new methods will be implemented immediately as new science-based interventions for conservation.

Characterization of the retroviral germline invasions using the koala retrovirus as a model

We use the koala retrovirus to understand how viruses, retroviruses in particular, have shaped a large part of vertebrate genomes, what the consequences of the process are for the host, and identify host defence mechanisms.

Theory and methods in ecology and evolution

We are constantly improving our analytical tool box by developing and refining methods for data collection, handling and analysis in order to deepen our understanding of ecological dynamics in wildlife.

Comparative environmental epigenomics in wildlife

Epigenetic changes function as flexible mechanisms to increase a species' adaptability to environmental changes, but past studies have focused mostly on maternal effects. Here we study parental transmitted epigenetic responses and ask also if different environmental changes invoke different or similar responses.

Biobanking for assisted reproduction techniques

Assisted reproduction techniques help to maintain the biodiversity. In particular the cryopreservation of gametes is an essential option to preserve the genetic diversity of wild animals and to support breeding programs in zoos.

Health status and diseases in the middle European lowland wolf population

Wolves in Germany are predominantly in the area of conflict between hunters, cattle and sheep breeders, nature conservation associations, politics and the general public. The Leibniz-IZW provides evidence-based research results that form the basis for wolf management in Germany.

Stability of wildlife populations under global change and across levels of organization

To understand how populations and communities react to global change we study how their traits and their stability are affected by disturbances.

Setting conservation priorities in the Annamite mountains of Laos and Vietnam

The exceptionally biodiversity and endemism of the Annamite region of Vietnam and Laos is threatened substantially by illegal hunting. We use state of the art systemic biodiversity surveys and statistical models to identify the last strongholds of wildlife.

The naked mole rat – An alternative model species for biomedical ageing research

We investigate the evolutionary adaptations regarding the ageing strategies of non-model species, with a special focus on the naked mole rat (Heterocephalus glaber) of which we keep and successfully breed ~400 animals in 12 colonies at Leibniz-IZW. This eusocial, mouse-sized rodent displays extraordinary cancer and hypoxia resistance, exceptional longevity and a unique reproductive system. Together with an interdisciplinary and international network of collaboration partners within the Leibniz Research Alliance ‘Healthy Ageing’ we examine the underlying physiological processes on the transcriptomic, biochemical and behavioural level.

Novel computational methods in wildlife research

Many of our research projects require new computational methods for processing and evaluating the data obtained. We develop these analysis tools either ourselves or in cooperation with partners, and also make them available to third parties.

Behavioural ecology and evolutionary biology of the spotted hyena population in the Ngorongoro Crater

How – and how well – do group-living animals respond to social and environmental change? To address this question, we study the evolution of social behaviour and behavioural and evolutionary processes shaping the life history and fitness of group-living animals using an entire population of wild spotted hyenas (eight groups, more than 2500 individuals) that we have been monitoring since 1996 and for which we compiled an almost complete genetic pedigree across nine generations.

Wildlife endocrinology

Wildlife endocrinology is largely based on non-invasive monitoring of reproductive and adrenocortical hormones of zoo-and wildlife. Our laboratory has the expertise, reagents and instruments availalbe for related research and is experienced in method development and validation for a variety of species and matrices. Most commonly explored matrices in our laboraty are faeces, urine and hair.

Eco-immunology of carnivores with low immunogenetic diversity

In this project we study the immune phenotype as well as the parasites and pathogens of two feline species, the cheetah (Acinonyx jubatus) and the Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus).

Health, demography, ecological dynamics and anthropogenic effects on spotted hyenas in the Serengeti National Park

We study the behaviour, ecology and health of spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta) in the Serengeti National Park since 1987, and currently hold detailed information on more than 2300 individuals in three clans.

Strengthening scientific approaches in wildlife welfare

With its expertise in animal welfare, the Leibniz-IZW contributes to an appropriate management of animals in human care and significantly improves science-based approaches and methods for it.

WTimpact – Citizen Science as a tool for knowledge transfer

In this interdisciplinary project we investigate which factors influence learning and the emotional attitude of participants in Citizen Science projects. We want to find out whether Citizen Science can be used as a tool for knowledge transfer and which success factors are important for this.