The Leibniz-IZW is an internationally renowned German research institute. It is part of the Forschungsverbund Berlin e.V. and a member of the Leibniz Association. Our goal is to understand the adaptability of wildlife in the context of global change and to contribute to the enhancement of the survival of viable wildlife populations. For this purpose, we investigate the diversity of life histories, the mechanisms of evolutionary adaptations and their limits, including diseases, as well as the interrelations of wildlife with their environment and people. We use expertise from biology and veterinary medicine in an interdisciplinary approach to conduct fundamental and applied research – from the molecular to the landscape level – in close dialogue with the public and stakeholders. Additionally, we are committed to unique and high-quality services for the scientific community.
Reproducing efficiently in captivity is crucial for the survival of many wildlife species, yet reproductive success is often lower than in the wild. Currently, many zoo population management strategies prioritise the genetic diversity of captive populations. Scientists now argue that a broader perspective is required which also includes behaviour, life-history, husbandry and environmental considerations. This would improve breeding success in zoos and the maintenance of the diversity of traits, behaviours, and phenotypes of threatened species. In a paper published recently in the scientific “Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research” they compare different population management approaches and conclude that prioritizing genetic factors to the exclusion of all others may have detrimental effects: For example, in small groups of unrelated adults, conflicts are likely to be more frequent than in larger groups with relatives present who had the chance to develop differentiated socialisation and learning repertoires.
Another piece of the puzzle about the longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes has been uncovered. Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes. It is highly likely that SOD2 not only detoxifies the reactive oxygen radicals in the cells, but also inhibits programmed cell death. The results were recently published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports of the Nature Group.
A research team at the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) developed a method to isolate and cryopreserve testicular cells. This will allow the safekeeping and biobanking of gametes and other cells of the male reproductive tract of threatened or endangered feline species. The findings have been published in the scientific journal "Cryobiology".
Common noctules – one of the largest bat species native to Germany – are searching for their fellows during their hunt for insects above farmland. Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) show in a paper published in the journal “Oikos” that bats forage on their own in insect-rich forests, but hunt collectively in groups over insect-poor farmland. They seem to zoom in on places where conspecifics emit echolocations during the capture of insects, an inadvertent clue that reveals high-yielding areas to others. However, “listening” to their hunting companions to find food only works when sufficient numbers of bats forage in the same area. If numbers continue to decline, density could fall below a critical level and joint hunting could become difficult or impossible. This could pose an additional threat to the survival of species such as the Common noctule.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is spreading enormously fast internationally and nationally and has been classified as a global pandemic by the WHO.
So far, the source and intermediate hosts of the virus have not been clearly identified. To date, the reservoir for the first coronavirus SARS-CoV-1, which was responsible for the SARS epidemic in 2002/03, has also not been identified.
Recently, Chinese scientists found that the novel coronavirus is related to coronaviruses found in five wildlife species living in Asia, including the masked palm civet (Paguma larvata), Asian palm civet, (Paradoxurus hermaphroditus), Asian civet cat (Viverra sp) and horseshoe bats (Rhinolophus spp). The results of the investigations show that the virus in the five animal species is not the same coronavirus that was transmitted to humans. The Java horseshoe bat has the greatest genetic similarity with 96.2 % of the DNA nucleotides. These results do not mean that SARS-CoV-2 originates from these wild animals.
In Germany, no comparatively high matches with the SARS-CoV-2 virus have been found in domestic wildlife so far. Also, no transmission of the new virus to pets such as cats, dogs, etc. has been proven so far. It is known that so-called feline and canine corona viruses occur in cats and dogs. These are harmless to humans. The Friedrich-Loeffler Institute can provide you with further information (https://www.fli.de/de/home/).
Similar to humans, wild animals’ reaction to disturbance is accompanied by releasing hormones, such as cortisol. To understand the impact of various “stress” factors – for example competition for food, encounters with predators, or changing environmental conditions – on wildlife, scientists first need to determine the baseline levels of relevant hormones for each species. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) now uncovered possible pitfalls of the commonly used hormone analysis method that overestimate concentrations of cortisol and thus lead to overstated conclusions. They investigated whether glucocortiocoid hormones deposited in animal hair can be reliable biomarkers to indicate the impact of disturbances. The source of errors in the commonly used antibody-based enzyme immunoassays (EIA) method is described in a recently published article in the scientific journal “Conservation Physiology”.
Ageing is an inevitable part of life, yet some species are ageing very differently than others, even than very similar ones. Naked mole rats for example, an east African rodent of a size comparable to moles or mice, show a strongly delayed process of ageing and live up to 30 years. Scientists from Russia, Germany and Switzerland now confirmed a mechanism in mouse, bat and naked mole rat cells – a “mild depolarization” of the inner mitochondrial membrane – that is linked to ageing: Mild depolarization regulates the creation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mROS) in cells and is therefore a mechanism of the anti-ageing program. In mice, this mechanism falls apart at the age of 1 year, while in naked mole rats this does not occur until ages of up to 20 years. This newly confirmed mechanism is described in detail in a paper published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA”.
For wildlife, cities can present new opportunities as well as threats. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Luxembourg National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) analysed genetic material of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) inhabiting Berlin and its surroundings. They identified two genetically distinct, adjacent “urban” and “rural” fox populations and revealed that physical barriers such as rivers or man-made structures reduce the exchange between these populations but also differences in human activity in these landscapes play a major role. The researchers suggest that avoidance of sites of human activity may drive foxes into costly trade-offs as they prefer to disperse along potentially dangerous transportation infrastructures. The study was recently published in the scientific journal “Molecular Ecology”.