Behaviour, genetics, and protection of urban and suburban hedgehogs

This project aims to investigate whether rural and urban hedgehogs or different urban populations differ in lifestyle. Furthermore it focusses on whether and how concentrated human activities influence the behaviour of urban hedgehogs.

Project details
Duration: since 10/2013
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Evolutionary EcologyDept Evolutionary Genetics
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Anne Berger (Dept Evolutionary Ecology)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Jörns Fickel (Dept Evolutionary Genetics)
Consortium Partner(s): Berlin-Brandenburg Institute of Advanced Biodiversity Research (BBIB)
Current Funding Organisation: -
Research Foci:
Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Unterstanding the environmental context
Improving population viability


The populations of hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) are steadily decreasing across Europe, although recent studies have shown that these nocturnal and protected animals have higher population densities in urban or suburban areas than in rural areas. The research project is investigating the extent to which hedgehogs adapt their way of life to the conditions of a big city and is intended to provide concrete recommendations for the effective linking of nature conservation measures and urban land use planning.

By the genetic analysis of a large number of hedgehogs, for example, we test the hypothesis whether the Berlin hedgehog population is genetically structured into small sub-populations due to numerous inner-city barriers (Department of Evolutionary Genetics). If this is true, the urban structures that act as barriers will be identified.

Some basic questions in this project are:

  • In which habitats does the hedgehog occur in Berlin and in which not?
  • Are there genetically isolated island populations or corridors between individual hedgehog populations?
  • Are there differences in the food spectrum, parasite load, constitution, reproduction rate, mortality between "city and rural hedgehogs" or between hedgehogs in different city habitats?
  • How do the warmer urban conditions influence the hibernation behaviour of the hedgehog?
  • How do the concentrated human activities influence hedgehog behaviour (e.g. is there increased night activity or an interruption in hibernation)?

The project is in close dialogue with Berlin authorities, associations, citizens and various interest groups.

Selected Publications

Berger ABarthel LMF, Rast W, Hofer H, Gras P (2020): Urban Hedgehog Behavioural Responses to Temporary Habitat Disturbance versus Permanent Fragmentation. Animals, 10(11), 2109.

Barthel LMF, Werner D, Schmidt A, Berger A, Hofer H, Fickel J (2020): Unexpected Gene-Flow in Urban Environments:The Example of the European Hedgehog. Animals, 10(12), 2315;

Berger A, Lozano B, Barthel LMF, Schubert N (2020): Moving in the dark - Evidence for an influence of artificial light at night on the movement behaviour of European hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus). Animals, 10(8), 1306. doi:10.3390/ani10081306

Barthel LMF, Hofer H, Berger A 2019): An easy, flexible solution to attach devices to hedgehogs (Erinaceus europaeus) enables long-term high-resolution studies. ECOL EVOL 9, 672–679.

Rast W, Barthel LMF, Berger A (2019): Music festival makes hedgehogs move: how individuals cope behaviorally in response to human-induced stressors. ANIMALS 9, 455.