Department of Reproduction Biology: Research Focus

Understanding reproductive characteristics and strategies of wildlife is important in order to assess the effects of environmental factors on fertility. For example, health status or different environmental challenges have a strong influence on the reproductive success. However, basic information on normal reproductive function is still lacking for most species.

We investigate the generation and maturation of germ cells, their functional interactions in the male and female genital tract as well as the endocrine regulation of reproductive processes. The implementation of cell-based techniques bridges the gap between the genetic and organismic level of research and allows comparative experimental investigations across species in vitro.

We use our expertise on gamete biology to continuously develop and refine assisted reproductive techniques (ART), in particular in-vitro-maturation and -fertilization of oocytes and long-term preservation of sperm cells for a variety of species. ART are increasingly required to support reproduction in endangered species. Based on the long-term access to wildlife samples provided by IZW pathology and stakeholders from the zoo community, we operate and supervise the IZW cryobank with cryopreserved individual samples from more than 100 species with a special focus on felids. Besides ejaculated and epididymal sperm, oocytes and embryos, these samples also comprise testicular cells and ovarian tissue.

In our endocrine lab, we develop and implement new approaches for non-invasive hormone monitoring and explore metabolomics to unravel reproductive processes and to assess the allostatic load in wildlife. Our endocrine lab is one of the leading labs world-wide for non-invasive monitoring of reproductive and adrenocortical hormones and is therefore involved in many field projects of the IZW and other institutions. Additionally, we pursue exchanging our expertise with established and new researchers in the field.

Our methods are validated for a large number of species and are subject to continuous quality control. We make our expertise available to scientists in various event formats.