Department of Reproduction Management: Research Focus

The ultimate goal is to enhance reproduction performance in endangered and critically endangered species improving population viability and species survival.

Our research activities focus on understanding specific reproductive traits and reproduction morphology and physiology in wildlife species to develop new reproductive management programs.

One of the main research goals is the development of rescue strategies by the use of advanced Assisted Reproduction Technologies and Stem Cell Associated Techniques for endangered or even critically endangered species such as the Asiatic lion, Iberian lynx, the Sumatran or Northern white rhinoceros.

Specifically, our department pioneers artificial insemination, gamete collection, in-vitro embryo production and embryo transfer for endangered and critically endangered wildlife species.

For long-term preservation of biodiversity and basic research, biobanking became increasingly important. Our department collects and manages frozen sperm samples from more than 45 endangered or even extinct species and a collection of cryopreserved tissues and fibroblast cultures from more than 150 endangered species as a contribution to the IZW and other European cryobanks. As a special achievement, we hold a collection of induced pluripotent and embryonic stem cell lines from 9 endangered species. For this, we work with German Stem Cell Network to utilize this emerging research field for its potential for in-vitro gamete production of endangered species.

For understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations we use several model species for longitudinal studies: naked mole rat, sheep, hare and roe deer. Selection of sexual partners is investigated by morphological and acoustic reconstruction of the voice box.

Our long-term research into wildlife health established a new scientific concept in wildlife conservation medicine: Asymmetric reproductive aging, which is the process of wild animals kept in humans reproducing too little or too late. As a result, the reproductive organs age prematurely and develop diseases which, in the worst case, can lead to infertility. As this is undesirable in rare species, this concept is now being considered as an integral part of all European, Asian and American breeding programmes, and individuals are given the opportunity to reproduce early.