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. +++
A rare recent case of retrovirus integration: An infectious gibbon ape leukaemia virus is colonising a rodent’s genome in New Guinea
Retroviruses are viruses that multiply by incorporating their genes into the genome of a host cell. If the infected cell is a germ cell, the retrovirus can then be passed on to the next generation as an “endogenous” retrovirus (ERV) and spread as part of the host genome in that host species. In vertebrates, ERVs are ubiquitous and sometimes make up 10 per cent of the host genome. However, most retrovirus integrations are very old, already degraded and therefore inactive – their initial impact on host health has been minimised by millions of years of evolution. A research team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has now discovered a recent case of retrovirus colonisation in a rodent from New Guinea, the white-bellied mosaic-tailed rat. In a paper in the scientific journal "Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences", they describe this new model of virus integration. The observations on this process will help to improve our understanding how retroviruses rewrite host genomes.
World’s first successful embryo transfer in rhinos paves the way for saving the northern white rhinos from extinction
BioRescue, an international consortium of scientists and conservationists, succeeded in achieving the world’s first pregnancy of a rhinoceros after an embryo transfer. The southern white rhino embryo was produced in vitro from collected egg cells and sperm and transferred into a southern white rhino surrogate mother at the Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya on September 24, 2023. The BioRescue team confirmed a pregnancy of 70 days with a well-developed 6.4 cm long male embryo. The successful embryo transfer and pregnancy are a proof of concept and allow to now safely move to the transfer of northern white rhino embryos – a cornerstone in the mission to save the northern white rhino from extinction.
New research into hedgehogs injured by robotic lawn mowers discovers a significant but solvable animal welfare and conservation problem
Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) analysed 370 documented cases of hedgehogs being injured (cut) by electric gardening tools in Germany. Almost half of the hedgehogs found between June 2022 and September 2023 did not survive the injuries. The data reveal a serious animal welfare and conservation issue for these specially protected animals, as most hedgehogs were only found hours or even days after the accidents. In two further studies, an international team of scientists analysed how hedgehogs behaviourally respond to an approaching robotic lawn mower. The observed behavioural responses were used to develop a scientifically sound, standardised safety test to protect hedgehogs for robotic devices. The three scientific papers are published in the special issue “Applied Hedgehog Conservation Research” of the scientific journal “Animals”.
Helping koalas to survive: world's largest koala pedigree genomic database aims to protect the population of the endangered species
An international research consortium with the participation of the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) is building the world's largest koala pedigree genomic database. This will help to improve the understanding and prevention of diseases, protect endangered koala populations, and thus ensure that koalas prosper everywhere in the long run. Among key challenges for these animals is the koala retrovirus (KoRV), which increases their susceptibility to bacterial infections, leukaemia and other types of cancer. All koalas in zoological gardens in North America and Europe as well as almost all free-ranging koalas in Australia carry this virus.
Not only do many bats die at wind turbines, the turbines also displace some species from their habitats over large areas. When the turbines are in operation at relatively high wind speeds, the activity of bat species that hunt in structurally dense habitats such as forests drops by almost 80 per cent within a radius of 80 to 450 metres around the turbine. This is the result of a scientific investigation led by scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Philipps-Universität Marburg, which is published in the journal “Global Ecology and Conservation". The team suggests that one of the causes of this avoidance behaviour is the noise emission of the turbine rotors, which increases with increasing wind speed.
While some wildlife species thrive well in cities, it's harder for large, insectivorous bat species to find enough food: To get their fill, city-dwelling common noctules (Nyctalus noctula) have to hunt longer than their rural counterparts and yet they catch fewer insects. While rural bats hunt together, their urban counterparts regularly forage alone. These findings, published in the scientific journal “Global Change Biology”, are the results of a new scientific investigation led by PD Dr Christian Voigt and Dr Laura Stidsholt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW).
In late summer, some bat species migrate from northern Europe along the coastlines to their wintering sites in central and western Europe. Until now it was assumed that all bats travelled in the same direction during the migration. However, the reality is more complex: On the Latvian Baltic coast, a research team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) reconstructed the flight paths of Nathusius’ pipistrelle bats using ultrasound microphones. Most animals flew southwards in late summer, but on some days 20 percent travelled in the opposite direction – presumably owing to weather conditions. More and more wind turbines are being set up along the coasts and on the high seas of the North Sea and the Baltic Sea. As bats spend more time along the coastlines than expected, partially deviate onto the high seas and even fly detours, the wind turbines pose a more (deadly) danger to bats than previously recognised, the team concludes in an article in the journal “Global Ecology and Conservation”.
Reproductive behaviour in the animal kingdom is extremely diverse. Until now, it was believed that the copulatory behaviours of mammals always involve penetration of the female genital tract by the penis. A scientific investigation led by the University of Lausanne and the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), which was recently published in the journal “Current Biology”, reveals an exception in bats, a group of mammals whose sexual behaviour is still poorly understood. The common serotine bat mates without intromission of the penis into the female genital tract.