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.

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

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.