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.

+++ Current information on African swine fever: The Leibniz-IZW conducts research on the population dynamics, on models of disease outbreaks in wild boars and on the ecology and human-wildlife interaction in urban areas. African swine fever is a reportable disease in domestic swine and therefor is the purview of the respective federal state laboratories and the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut (Federal Research Institute for Animal Health) FLI. +++

News

Cheetah at a marking tree in Central Namibia (photo: Jan Zwilling/Leibniz-IZW)
Cheetah at a marking tree in Central Namibia (photo: Jan Zwilling/Leibniz-IZW)

Cheetahs need more space: Reintroduction in India must consider their spatial ecology

In autumn 2022 and winter 2023, a total of 20 cheetahs from Namibia and South Africa were introduced to Kuno National Park in India to establish a free-ranging population – for the first time since their extinction in India 70 years ago. Although the idea may be commendable, getting it right is not so easy. Scientists of the Cheetah Research Project of Leibniz-IZW in Namibia see shortcomings in the reintroduction plan: In southern Africa, cheetahs live in a stable socio-spatial system with widely spread territories and densities of less than one individual per 100 km². The plan for cheetahs in Kuno National Park assumes that the high prey density will sustain high cheetah densities, even though there is no evidence that high cheetah density depends on high prey density. As Kuno National Park is small, it is likely that the released animals will move far beyond the park's boundaries and cause conflicts with neighbouring villages, the team said in a letter in the scientific journal “Conservation Science and Practice”.

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Two adult female spotted hyenas killed by a car on a main gravel road in the Serengeti National Park. Photo: Sonja Metzger
Two adult female spotted hyenas killed by a car on a main gravel road in the Serengeti National Park. Photo: Sonja Metzger

Hyenas die also in road accidents

Which factors influence the risk of fatal collisions between vehicles and spotted hyenas in the Serengeti? Findings from a long-term study over three decades

The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania is home to large populations of wildlife species, including spotted hyenas (Crocuta crocuta). While many human activities are prohibited in the national park, driving is allowed in and through the protected area. Using a 34-year long-term data set, a scientific team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) analysed which factors significantly contributed to hyenas being run over and killed by vehicles. These were, firstly, the type of road, and secondly, the annual migration of the large ungulate herds in the Serengeti and the associated seasonal changes in the localisation of the prey animals of spotted hyenas. The findings provide new insights into which ecological and individual factors influence the risk of fatalities for carnivores in collisions with vehicles; they were published in the scientific journal Biological Conservation.

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PANDASIA team members at Kickoff Meeting in Thailand in February 2023 (Photo: PANDASIA)
PANDASIA team members at Kickoff Meeting in Thailand in February 2023 (Photo: PANDASIA)

EU-funded PANDASIA project reduces risk of pandemics and enhances health literacy in Thailand and Europe

Emerging infectious diseases, which are caused by zoonotic pathogens such as viruses and bacteria are transmitted between animals and humans, pose an increasing threat to global health. Zoonoses occur primarily where wild animals and humans come into regular contact. Owing to its species diversity, human population density, and movement, Southeast Asia is considered as hotspot for the emergence of new zoonoses and subsequent pandemics. Climate change and loss of biodiversity accelerate the risk of new pandemics. The EU-funded, transdisciplinary scientific project PANDASIA investigates potential risks of new pandemics in Thailand and develops preventive measures. Findings will be used to enhance health literacy of different target groups and communities.

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Virtual reconstruction of bones of Dysalotosaurus from one of the bamboo corsets (Image: Leibniz-IZW, MfN, Charite)
Virtual reconstruction of bones of Dysalotosaurus from one of the bamboo corsets (Image: Leibniz-IZW, MfN, Charite)

Computer tomography images reveal dinosaur bones in unopened bamboo corsets and transport crates

With the help of computer tomography images, Berlin scientists from the Museum für Naturkunde (MfN), the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Charité – university medicine of Berlin – reconstructed the contents of unopened expedition crates from the Tendaguru dinosaur site in Tanzania. The virtual preparation of the material in the bamboo corsets and transport crates revealed numerous dinosaur bones, mainly from the small gazelle dinosaur Dysalotosaurus lettowvorbecki, packed in hut clay lumps, in old tin cans or as whole collections of loose bones. With the help of these images, the team created a prioritisation list for the palaeontological preparation of this material. The images also provide a valuable testimony of this historic expedition and the performance of the Tanzanian excavation workers and porters in the colonial context.

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Assisted first migration of Northern Bald Ibises (photo by Helena Wehner)
Assisted first migration of Northern Bald Ibises (photo by Helena Wehner)

With a little help – European Northern Bald Ibis population well on the way to self-sustainability

A recently published paper in the journal ORYX evaluates the success of the established and well-known European reintroduction project for the northern bald ibis (Geronticus eremita). Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and from the Austrian company Waldrappteam Conservation and Research evaluated demographic data from almost 400 individuals over 12 years and modelled future scenarios. The population has good survival and reproduction rates and the modelling also showed positive future survival probabilities, even assuming irregular losses due to catastrophes. The reintroduced population therefore has a good chance of long-term survival, the team concludes.

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A leatherback sea turtle hatchling on its way back to the ocean (photo: Christian Del Rosario)
A leatherback sea turtle hatchling on its way back to the ocean (photo: Christian Del Rosario)

Scientists unveil the highest quality map of sea turtles’ genomes – their future may lie in their evolutionary history

In a paper recently published in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences”, an international team of scientists revealed an incredibly detailed genetic map of two species – green and leatherback sea turtles. This will, for the first time, elucidate the genetic foundations that have enabled the once land-dwelling turtles to thrive in oceans throughout the world. Around 100 million years ago, their ancestors turned to the oceans, eventually evolving into the sea turtles that we know today. Knowing the genetic background of this remarkable adaptation may prove crucial for their conservation in current times of rapid environmental change.

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Field work with bats in a forest in Brandenburg, Germany (photos: Valentin Giebel)
Field work with bats in a forest in Brandenburg, Germany (photos: Valentin Giebel)

Collision risk and habitat loss: wind turbines in forests impair threatened bat species

In order to meet climate protection goals, renewable energies are booming – often wind power. More than 30,000 turbines have already been installed on the German mainland so far, and the industry is currently scrambling to locate increasingly rare suitable sites. Thus, forests are coming into focus as potential sites. A scientific team from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) now demonstrated in a new paper published in the scientific journal “Current Biology” that wind turbines in forests impair endangered bat species: Common noctules (Nyctalus noctula), a species with a high risk of colliding with rotor blades, are attracted to forest wind turbines if these are located near their roosts. Far from roosts, common noctules avoid the turbines, essentially resulting in a loss of foraging space and thus habitat for this species.

 

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Mouse lemur in Madagascar (photo: Sharon Kessler)
Mouse lemur in Madagascar (photo: Sharon Kessler)

Madagascar mouse lemur retroviruses are diverse and surprisingly similar to ones found in polar bears or domestic sheep

Madagascar is home to a unique biodiversity with a large number of endemic species, among those many lemur species, including the mouse lemurs. This diversity is also found in their retroviruses, a team led by scientists from the Leibniz Institute of Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the University of Stirling reports in the journal “Virus Evolution”. They analysed the mouse lemur genome and identified viruses of two classes that represent ancient infections of the mouse lemur germline. The viruses now behave similarly to lemur genes and are thus called endogenous retroviruses (ERVs). It was surprising that some of the identified retroviruses are closely related to viruses found in other, very different mammals such as polar bears or domestic sheep. This suggests an intriguing and complex pattern of host switching of retroviruses, much more complex than previously thought.

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