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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.

News

Lung lavage at rhino  (Foto: Jonathan Cracknell)
Lung lavage at rhino (Foto: Jonathan Cracknell)

Lung lavage as new test method improves tuberculosis diagnosis in rhinoceros

Diseases and tuberculosis in particular can pose considerable challenges for wildlife. In order to avoid epidemics within populations or to treat individual animals belonging to highly endangered species, fast and reliable tests are paramount. However present tuberculosis testing in rhinos relies on skin tests developed in the 1960s and designed for cattle bearing high risk of false diagnosis in rhinos. To improve diagnostic standards an international team of scientists lead by institutes in Berlin and Jena, Germany, performed repeated lung lavage as a new approach for tuberculosis diagnosis in rhinoceros. Subsequent genetic tests reliably identified mycobacteria in the animals’ respiratory fluids – with minimal stress and risk for the rhinos. The study has been published in the journal PLOS ONE. 

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Hyena cubs (photo: Sarah Benhaiem)
Hyena cubs (photo: Sarah Benhaiem)

Hyena population recovered slowly from a disease epidemic

Infectious diseases can substantially reduce the size of wildlife populations, thereby affecting both the dynamics of ecosystems and biodiversity. Predicting the long-term consequences of epidemics is thus essential for conservation. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin and from the Center for Functional Ecology and Evolution (CEFE) in Montpellier, France, have now developed a mathematical model ("matrix model") to determine the impact of a major epidemic of canine distemper virus (CDV) on the population of spotted hyenas in the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. The results of the study are published in the new Nature open-access journal Communications Biology.

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An Annamite striped rabbit captured by a camera trap (Photo: Leibniz-IZW / WWF-Vietnam CarBi Project / Hue Saola Nature Reserve)
An Annamite striped rabbit captured by a camera trap (Photo: Leibniz-IZW / WWF-Vietnam CarBi Project / Hue Saola Nature Reserve)

Fading stripes in Southeast Asia: First insight into the ecology of an elusive and threatened rabbit

The Annamite mountains of Vietnam and Lao PDR (Laos) harbour exceptional species richness and endemism, but its wildlife is under threat from widespread and intensive poaching. The region is home to the Annamite striped rabbit (Nesolagus timminsi), a little-known lagomorph only discovered by science in 1995. A new study carried out by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo- and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in collaboration with WWF-Vietnam, WWF-Laos, and the Central Institute for Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences (CRES) of the Vietnam National University, provides the first detailed information about the species ecology. The study is published in the international journal Oryx.

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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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