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.

This programme goal is directly addressed in the following projects, among others:

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.