Welcome to the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research!

Willkommen am Leibniz-Institut für Zoo- und Wildtierforschung (IZW)! Deutsche Version der IZW-Webseite.

The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) is an interdisciplinary research institute dedicated to developing the scientific basis for novel approaches to wildlife conservation.

In the current era of the Anthropocene, virtually all ecosystems in the world are subjected to man-made impacts. As yet, it is not possible to predict the response of wildlife to the ever-increasing global change. Why are some wildlife species threatened by anthropogenic change, while others persist or even thrive in modified, degenerated or novel habitats?

To answer this and related questions, the IZW conducts basic and applied research across different scientific disciplines. We study the diversity of life histories and evolutionary adaptations and their limits, including diseases, of free-ranging and captive wildlife species, and their interactions with people and their environment in Germany, Europe and worldwide.

The IZW is a member of the Leibniz Association and the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V.

Spotted hyaenas (photo: O. Höner)
Spotted hyaenas (photo: O. Höner)

The power of social support – How female hyaenas came to dominate males

In most animal societies, members of one sex dominate those of the other. Is this, as widely believed, an inevitable consequence of a disparity in strength and ferocity between males and females? Not necessarily. A new study on wild spotted hyaenas shows that in this social carnivore, females dominate males because they can rely on greater social support than males, not because they are stronger or more competitive in any other individual attribute. The main reason for females having, on average, more social support than males is that males are more likely to disperse and that dispersal disrupts social bonds. The study by scientists of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW, Germany) and the Institut des Sciences de l’Evolution de Montpellier (ISEM, France) was published in the journal Nature Ecology & Evolution.

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Landing white-tailed sea eagle; (c) Oliver Krone
Landing white-tailed sea eagle; (c) Oliver Krone

First evidence of fatal infection of white-tailed sea eagles with avian influenza

The most common unnatural causes of death in white-tailed sea eagles are lead poisoning and collisions with trains. During the winter of 2016/2017, however, many white-tailed eagles died in Northern Germany in circumstances unrelated to either cause. Instead, at least 17 white-tailed sea eagles were killed by avian influenza of the highly pathogenic virus subtype H5N8, as a team of scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institute (Federal Research Institute for Animal Health, FLI) demonstrated. Avian influenza may become a new threat for this highly protected wild species. The study was published in the scientific journal “Viruses”.

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Flying bat (Pipistrellus nathusii); Copyright (c) Christian Giese
Flying bat (c) Christian Giese

Red light at night: A potentially fatal attraction to migratory bats

Night time light pollution is rapidly increasing across the world. Nocturnal animals are likely to be especially affected but how they respond to artificial light is still largely unknown. In a new study, scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin, Germany, tested the response of European bats to red and white light sources during their seasonal migration. Soprano pipistrelles (Pipistrellus pygmaeus) and, to a lesser degree, Nathusius’ pipistrelles (Pipistrellus nathusii) were recorded more frequently near red LED light, indicating that the animals might be attracted to red light during their migration. In contrast, the scientists did not observe such behaviour near white LED lights.

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Capturing elephants from the wild shortens their lives

Humans have captured wild Asian elephants for different purposes for more than 3,000 years. This still continues today despite the fact that the populations are declining. An international team of researchers has now analysed records of timber elephants in Myanmar to understand the effects of capture on the survival of the animals. The study shows that even years after capture, the mortality rate of wild-caught elephants remains increased, and their average life expectancy is several years shorter than that of captive-born animals. This increases the pressure on free-ranging populations, if captures from the wild continue, and thus could be unsustainable in the long run. Possible differences between captive-born and wild-captured elephants, as revealed by this study, have important implications but are rarely considered in research and conservation programmes. The results have now been published in the scientific journal Nature Communications.

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Koala, Author: Daniel Zupanc
Koala, Author: Daniel Zupanc

Gene recombination deactivates retroviruses during invasion of host genomes

Most vertebrate genomes contain a surprisingly large number of viral gene sequences – about eight percent in humans. And yet how do exogenous viruses – apparently having invaded from outside – manage to become integrated into the host genome? Answers to this question are provided in a study by an international team of researchers led by Alex Greenwood of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin. Working with the example of koalas, the researchers have now identified key stages in the process, called “endogenization”, by which a host is invaded by exogenous retroviruses. The scientists also uncovered a process by which the host genome mounts a defense against the invaders. The results have now been published in the scientific journal PNAS.

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