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Current press releases

3D reconstruction of a thalattosuchian skull. image: G. Fritsch
3D reconstruction of a thalattosuchian skull. image: G. Fritsch

The tree of life is rich in examples of species that changed from living in water to a land-based existence. Occasionally, some species took the opposite direction. New insights into the anatomy of the inner ear of prehistoric reptiles, the thalattosuchians, revealed details about one of these evolutionary turning points. During the Mesozoic era, these now extinct crocodile relatives ventured into the ocean after a long semiaquatic phase. During this process, the skeleton of the thalattosuchians gradually adapted to the new pelagic habitat. In particular, the changes to the inner ear vestibular system of these reptiles enhanced their ability to swim. Compared to whales, which adapted quickly to life in water without a prolonged semiaquatic stage, this is a strikingly different evolutionary path for the same transition. These new findings of an international research team were made possible by the use of a Canon high-tech computed tomography (CT) scanner from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW). The results have been published in the „Proceedings of the National Acadamy of Sciences of the USA“.

Carcass of Nathusius' pipistrelle bat in front of a wind turbine. Photo: Christian Voigt
Carcass of Nathusius' pipistrelle bat in front of a wind turbine. Photo: Christian Voigt

The Via Pontica, an important migration route for birds in Eastern Europe, runs along the Black Sea coast of Romania and Bulgaria. Bats also use this route. In this region, numerous wind farms have been installed in recent years because of good wind conditions, but there has been little implementation of the legally required measures for the protection of bats. A Romanian research team cooperated with the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) in Berlin to demonstrate that this leads to high death rates of migrating bats and potentially large declines even in populations living far away in other countries. The scientists therefore recommend the widespread introduction of turn-off times during the migration months, which - as the team was able to show in a local wind farm - would massively decrease bat mortality yet produce only a marginal loss in the energy production of the turbines.

Ovum pickup with the southern white rhino cow Makena at Serengeti Park Hodenhagen. Photo: Serengeti Park Hodenhagen
Ovum pickup with the southern white rhino cow Makena at Serengeti Park Hodenhagen. Photo: Serengeti Park Hodenhagen

In order to prevent the extinction of species such as the northern white rhino, the BioRescue consortium is developing new methods and technologies for conservation. An important part of this work is basic research in cooperation with zoological institutions. This partnership has enabled the BioRescue team to continue working even during the Corona pandemic. On May 26, 2020, the team extracted oocytes from the southern white rhino female "Makena" in Serengeti Park in Hodenhagen, Germany, and then fertilized them in the Avantea laboratory in Italy to create four viable embryos. This was the team's most successful procedure of its kind and nourishes the hope that advanced assisted reproduction technologies (aART) are well established to ensure the survival of the northern white rhino in the near future.

Photo: Anne Ipsen

Summary of an article in the "Volksstimme" (in German).

Only recently, Prof Thomas Hildebrandt (Head of the Department of Reproduction Management at the Leibniz-IZW) – together with Australian colleagues – was able to make a genuine new discovery on reproduction in the animal kingdom: They used ultrasound to show that swamp wallabies develop a new embryo before the birth of the previous offspring and thus show parallel pregnancies at different stages of development. Now, together with his colleague Dr Susanne Holtze, Hildebrandt showed previously unknown reproductive mechanisms also in olms: The fertilisation of the eggs of the rare amphibious cave dwellers takes place inside the female olm and the first developmental steps of the embryo occur already in the fallopian tube.

Female Gorilla with 8 month old offspring in zoo
Female Gorilla with 8 month old offspring in zoo

Reproducing efficiently in captivity is crucial for the survival of many wildlife species, yet reproductive success is often lower than in the wild. Currently, many zoo population management strategies prioritise the genetic diversity of captive populations. Scientists now argue that a broader perspective is required which also includes behaviour, life-history, husbandry and environmental considerations. This would improve breeding success in zoos and the maintenance of the diversity of traits, behaviours, and phenotypes of threatened species. In a paper published recently in the scientific “Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research” they compare different population management approaches and conclude that prioritizing genetic factors to the exclusion of all others may have detrimental effects: For example, in small groups of unrelated adults, conflicts are likely to be more frequent than in larger groups with relatives present who had the chance to develop differentiated socialisation and learning repertoires.

Foto: Wolf, Canis lupus; Heiko Anders
Foto: Wolf, Canis lupus; Heiko Anders

Germany potentially provides many suitable areas for grey wolf territories. This means that wolves may potentially settle down in large parts of the country where they were extinct until around the year 2000. It should be expected that they will disperse through other areas not delineated as suitable as well. These are the results of a study conducted by the Federal Documentation and Consultation Centre on Wolves (DBBW), the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), the Technical University of Berlin, the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and the Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology (Vienna). The study was commissioned and published by the Federal Agency for Nature Conservation, Germany.

 

Foto: Iberian lynx; Ex-situ Iberian lynx program
Foto: Iberian lynx; Ex-situ Iberian lynx program

Another piece of the puzzle about the longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes has been uncovered. Scientists at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Leibniz Institute for Molecular Pharmacology (Leibniz-FMP) discovered that selected anti-oxidative enzymes, especially the enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD2), may play an important role to maintain the unusual longevity of the corpus luteum in lynxes. It is highly likely that SOD2 not only detoxifies the reactive oxygen radicals in the cells, but also inhibits programmed cell death. The results were recently published in the scientific journal Scientific Reports of the Nature Group.

Photo: Iberian lynx; Ex-situ Iberian lynx program
Photo: Iberian lynx; Ex-situ Iberian lynx program

A research team at the German Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) developed a method to isolate and cryopreserve testicular cells. This will allow the safekeeping and biobanking of gametes and other cells of the male reproductive tract of threatened or endangered feline species. The findings have been published in the scientific journal "Cryobiology".