Department of Evolutionary Genetics: Current Projects

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The origin of the last remaining wild horses

Przewalski’s horses are listed as last wild species of horses, but genome studies demonstrate that all remaining specimens of Przewalski’s horses are descendants of formerly domesticated animals.

Sun Bear Conservation Genetics and Genomics

Despite its vulnerable status in the IUCN Red List and serious conservation concerns, the sun bear Helarctos malayanus remains the least studied bear species. In this project, we use a range of genetic and genomic approaches to support on-going conservation efforts with new molecular tools.

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.

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.

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.

Understanding demographic and genetic change in a recovering population through simulation modelling

The 27+ year study of the spotted hyena (Crocuta crocuta) in the Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania, provides us with a unique opportunity to study the causes and consequences of demographic changes, genetics changes, and their interplay in a wild recovering population of a group-living mammal. To achieve this goal, we tailored an individual based simulation model (aka SHIM) to study a wide range of questions, covering both basic research as well as questions that have practical implications for conservation.

In-depth genomic analysis of hybridization between sea turtles


Hybridization between sea turtle species occurs with particularly high frequency in some populations in Brazil. We have been using state-of-the-art genomic techniques to evaluate the extent of hybridization occurrence, the possible deleterious effects in the hybrid progeny and the consequences for sea turtle conservation.

Anatolian Lynx Project (currently on hold)

Inferences from populations studied elsewhere might prove to be misleading for conservation of locally adapted populations. Our research has proved that Eurasian lynx populations living in Anatolian Turkey display a special foraging ecology, and morphological and behavioural adjustments meeting expectations of a lagomorph specialist meso-carnivore, living at high density and genetically diverse populations. This project aims to form an extensive baseline for conservation of this unique lynx population and create a model for conservation of other carnivore species in Turkey.

Genetic monitoring of threatened European carnivores

By developing SNP marker systems to genetically monitor European carnivores, we provide tools to understand how these elusive species co-exist with humans and recolonize densely populated areas with intensive land-use. In this network project, research at the IZW focused on the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx), the Eurasian otter (Lutra lutra) and the Eurasian brown bear (Ursus arctos arctos).

Powering endurance: Fuel selection in migratory bats

Mammals that engage in high intensity endurance exercise will deplete their glycogen reserves and then reach a point of sudden fatigue. Migratory birds, however, don’t have that problem, they oxydize lipids. But how do migratory bats generate the energy needed for long distance migration? Do they metabolize fat depots or do they refuel on the way?

Evolution driven by repetitive regions in sea turtles

Studying genetic variability (for functional and ecological analyses) in species that have a very low number of informative sites (e.g. sea turtles) is very challenging. Thus, we will assemble a very high quality genome (chromosome level) of the green sea turtle and will develop the bioinformatics tools to search for other variability markers (such as repetitive units) in sea turtles and other vertebrate groups with a low number of informative sites.

Forest elephant conservation in Liberia

The forest elephant population (Loxodonta cyclotis) of Central Africa has declined by more than half in the last two decades. Information on population sizes in West Africa is completely missing. In close cooperation with ElReCo and Future for Elephants, we are therefore using genetic markers to investigate size, structure and sex composition of forest elephant populations in Liberia in order to support conservation measures for these endangered giants.

Wild boar in urban space (currently on hold)

Wild boar have already established stable populations in many European cities. Effective and efficient population management is needed to avoid human-wildlife conflicts. For its implementation, it has to be clarified whether these urban populations are self-sustaining or require a constant influx of animals from surrounding areas (source-sink dynamics). We are investigating this in two European cities, namely Berlin and with our collaborative partner Wildlife Ecology & Health in Barcelona.