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.

Canine distemper virus of various wild species differs from the one of domestic dog population - which is more specialized. Photo: IZW.
Canine distemper virus of various wild species differs from the one of domestic dog population - which is more specialized. Photo: IZW.

Virus-host co-evolution: How specialised should a strain of a multi-host virus be?

A new study of canine distemper virus (CDV) provides the first evidence that the virus occurs as specialist strains that emerge in response to strong evolutionary selection in the large global domestic dog population, and as generalist strains adapted to infect a broad range of carnivore species that occur as smaller host populations. The study not only unravelled one key mechanism which led to the evolution of specialist and generalist strains, it also showed that specialising on one host species comes at the cost of a reduced ability to infect other host species.

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Koalas at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria
Koalas at the Tiergarten Schönbrunn in Vienna, Austria; Photo: Barbara Feldmann

Genome-invading retroviruses are a nasty surprise: the case of the koalas

By integrating themselves into the germ line of their host, retroviruses change the genetic code of their host. The only known case where this process can be currently observed is in Koalas. As an international team of scientists from Australia, Europe and North America just found out, this process may take longer than expected, with the virus continuing to have a serious pathological impact on the host which may go on for centuries. These findings have been just published online in Molecular Biology and Evolution.

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Polar bear Lars
Polar bear Lars/Photo: Zoo Wuppertal/Barbara Scheer

Viruses jumping species and zoo polar bear disease

Zoos bring together different animal species that would never encounter each other in the wild. On occasion, this can have unforeseen consequences. When in 2010 at the Wuppertal Zoo one polar bear died and another fell severely ill, zoo veterinarians were at a loss as to the cause of the symptoms. It has now been shown that the bears were infected with a recombinant zebra-derived virus that had jumped into other species, as reported today by an international team of researchers led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research in the journal Current Biology. Such species-jumping viruses, if not detected, may threaten the conservation mission of zoos.

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Wind farm
Wind farm, Photo: micha74un - Fotolia

German wind farms kill bats from near and far

Local wind turbines may have large-scale negative effects on distant ecosystems. Results of research by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) published today demonstrate that bats killed at German wind turbines originate mostly from northeastern Europe.

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African elephant
African elephant/Photo: Department of Cognitive Biology; University of Vienna

Mystery of elephant infrasounds revealed

In the current edition of "Science", an international team of voice researchers and cognitive biologists at the University of Vienna, and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin, Germany led by Christian Herbst, Angela Stoeger, Roland Frey and Tecumseh Fitch, provides new insights into the production of Elephant communication. The so-called "infrasounds", i.e. sounds with pitches below the range of human hearing, are found to be produced with the same physical mechanism as human speech or singing.

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