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Current press releases

Ovum Pickup Procedure (Photo by Ami Vitale)
Ovum Pickup Procedure_Photo by Ami Vitale

There are only two northern white rhinos left worldwide, both of them female. Saving this representative of megafauna from extinction seems impossible under these circumstances, yet an international consortium of scientists and conservationists just completed a procedure that could enable assisted reproduction techniques to do just that. On August 22, 2019, a team of veterinarians successfully harvested eggs from the two females who live in Ol Pejeta Conservancy in Kenya — a procedure that has never been attempted in northern white rhinos before. The eggs will now be artificially inseminated with frozen sperm from a northern white rhino bull, and in the near future the embryo will be transferred to a southern white rhino surrogate mother. The successful procedure was a joint effort by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) Berlin, Avantea, Dvůr Králové Zoo, Ol Pejeta Conservancy and the Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS).

Bache mit Frischlingen. Foto David Wiemer
Bache mit Frischlingen. Foto David Wiemer

Swine fever, rabies, bird flu – outbreaks of diseases in wildlife populations often also affect farm animals and humans. However, their causes and the dynamics of their spread are often complex and not well understood. A team of scientists led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) has now carried out an analysis of long-term data of an outbreak of classical swine fever in wild boars in the German federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern that occurred between 1993 and 2000. The results suggest that non-infected regions have a higher risk of infection due to changes in movement patterns, particularly during the mast and rutting seasons (autumn and winter), and thus highlighting the importance  for  focusing intervention  efforts on specific individuals, seasons and areas in the event of future outbreaks. The findings are published in the “Journal of Animal Ecology”.

Great tit (Parus major); Copyright: Bernard Castelein
Great tit (Parus major); Copyright: Bernard Castelein

Climate change can threaten species and extinctions can impact ecosystem health. It is therefore of vital importance to assess to which degree animals can respond to changing environmental conditions – for example by shifting the timing of breeding – and whether these shifts enable the persistence of populations in the long run. To answer these questions an international team of 64 researchers led by Viktoriia Radchuk, Alexandre Courtiol and Stephanie Kramer-Schadt from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) evaluated more than 10,000 published scientific studies. The results of their analysis are worrisome: Although animals do commonly respond to climate change, such responses are in general insufficient to cope with the rapid pace of rising temperatures and sometimes go in wrong directions. The results are published in the scientific journal “Nature Communications”.

 

Cheetah in Planckendael Zoo (The Netherlands). Photo: Ad Meskens (Wikimedia Commons)
Cheetah in Planckendael Zoo (The Netherlands). Photo: Ad Meskens (Wikimedia Commons)

Cheetah experts in many zoos around the world are at a loss. Despite all their efforts, these cats often do not reproduce in the desired manner. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), together with colleagues from the Allwetterzoo Münster, have now found a key to the issue: the age of the mothers at the first pregnancy is the decisive factor. In contrast to the wild, felines kept in zoos are often bred only years after they have reached sexual maturity. From the study results, the researchers derive recommendations for keeping cheetahs in zoological gardens. The study was published in the journal "Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research".

Najin and Fatu, the last two remaining Northern White Rhinoceroses. Photo: Jan Stejskal
Najin and Fatu, the last two remaining Northern White Rhinoceroses. Photo: Jan Stejskal

Today the research project BioRescue for the rescue of the Northern White Rhino, which is threatened with extinction, is officially launched. State-of-the-art reproduction and stem cell technology shall ensure the survival of this key species. The international scientific consortium, led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and with the significant participation of the Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (MCD), is receiving around 4 million Euros in funding from the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) as part of the BMBF's biodiversity conservation research initiative. With the successful transfer of an embryo into the uterus of a Southern white rhinoceros at the end of May 2019, the research team has already reached an important milestone. The ethical and social questions arising from BioRescue will be addressed by the scientists in an accompanying research project.

Camera trap photo of a Caucasian Lynx. Photo: Deniz Mengüllüoglu, Nurten Salikara
Camera trap photo of a Caucasian Lynx. Photo: Deniz Mengüllüoglu, Nurten Salikara

Little is known about the biology and the genetic status of the Caucasian Lynx (Lynx lynx dinniki), a subspecies of the Eurasian lynx distributed across portions of Turkey, the Caucasus region and Iran. To collect baseline genetic, ecological, and behavioural data and assist future conservation efforts, a team of scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) collected data and samples in a region of Anatolian Turkey over several years. They were particularly interested in the question whether non-invasive samples (faeces, hair) were helpful to discern genetic diversity of the study population. The results of the genetic analyses indicated an unexpectedly high genetic diversity and lack of inbreeding despite the recent isolation of the study population, a result that would not have been obtained with the use of conventional samples. The data also revealed that females stay near home ranges in which they were born whereas males disperse after separation from their mothers. These insights into the genetics and behaviour of the Caucasian Lynx are published in the scientific journal PLoS ONE.

Soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), Photo: Christian Giese
Soprano pipistrelle (Pipistrellus pygmaeus), Photo: Christian Giese

Whether it is bats, wildebeest or whales, millions of mammals move over thousands of kilometres each year. How they navigate during migration remains remarkably understudied compared to birds or sea turtles, however. A team of scientists led by the Leibniz-IZW in Berlin now combined a mirror experiment simulating a different direction of the setting sun and a new test procedure to measure orientation behaviour in bats to understand the role of the sun’s position in the animals’ navigation system. The results demonstrate for the first time that a migratory mammal species uses the sunset direction to calibrate their compass system. Furthermore the experiment, which is published in “Current Biology”, indicates that this capacity is not inherited and first-time migrating young bats need to learn the importance of the solar disc at dusk for nightly orientation.

Pipistrellus nathusii; Christian Giese
Pipistrellus nathusii; Christian Giese

Berlin, 27.03.2019

Artificial light is rightly considered a major social, cultural and economic achievement. Yet, artificial light at night is also said to pose a threat to biodiversity, especially affecting nocturnal species in metropolitan areas. It has become clear that the response by wildlife to artificial light at night might vary across species, seasons and lamp types. A study conducted by a team led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) sheds new light on how exactly ultraviolet (UV)  emitting and non-UV emitting street lamps influence the activity of bats in the Berlin metropolitan area and whether tree cover might mitigate any effect of light pollution. The study is published in the scientific journal “Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution”.