The Leibniz-IZW regular publishes press releases on key findings and insights from its research and on events, awards or personalia. The press releases are distributed directly to journalists on our press release distribution mailing list. Press releases are also disseminated through the distribution services Informationsdienst Wissenschaft, AlphaGalileo and EurekAlert. Are you interested in receiving our press releases directly via e-mail? In this case please send us an email to seet@izw-berlin.de.

Current press releases

Common noctule bat (Photo: Kamran Safi, wikimedia commons)
Common noctule bat (Photo: Kamran Safi, wikimedia commons)

Common noctules – one of the largest bat species native to Germany – are searching for their fellows during their hunt for insects above farmland. Scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) show in a paper published in the journal “Oikos” that bats forage on their own in insect-rich forests, but hunt collectively in groups over insect-poor farmland. They seem to zoom in on places where conspecifics emit echolocations during the capture of insects, an inadvertent clue that reveals high-yielding areas to others. However, “listening” to their hunting companions to find food only works when sufficient numbers of bats forage in the same area. If numbers continue to decline, density could fall below a critical level and joint hunting could become difficult or impossible. This could pose an additional threat to the survival of species such as the Common noctule.

Detail of cheetah fur, Photo: Jan Zwilling
Detail of cheetah fur, Photo: Jan Zwilling

Similar to humans, wild animals’ reaction to disturbance is accompanied by releasing hormones, such as cortisol. To understand the impact of various “stress” factors – for example competition for food, encounters with predators, or changing environmental conditions – on wildlife, scientists first need to determine the baseline levels of relevant hormones for each species. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) now uncovered possible pitfalls of the commonly used hormone analysis method that overestimate concentrations of cortisol and thus lead to overstated conclusions. They investigated whether glucocortiocoid hormones deposited in animal hair can be reliable biomarkers to indicate the impact of disturbances. The source of errors in the commonly used antibody-based enzyme immunoassays (EIA) method is described in a recently published article in the scientific journal “Conservation Physiology”.

Naked mole rat at Leibniz-IZW, Photo: Jan Zwilling
Naked mole rat at Leibniz-IZW, Photo: Jan Zwilling

Ageing is an inevitable part of life, yet some species are ageing very differently than others, even than very similar ones. Naked mole rats for example, an east African rodent of a size comparable to moles or mice, show a strongly delayed process of ageing and live up to 30 years. Scientists from Russia, Germany and Switzerland now confirmed a mechanism in mouse, bat and naked mole rat cells – a “mild depolarization” of the inner mitochondrial membrane – that is linked to ageing: Mild depolarization regulates the creation of mitochondrial reactive oxygen species (mROS) in cells and is therefore a mechanism of the anti-ageing program. In mice, this mechanism falls apart at the age of 1 year, while in naked mole rats this does not occur until ages of up to 20 years. This newly confirmed mechanism is described in detail in a paper published in the “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA”.

City fox on a Berlin railway facility (photo: Jon Andoni Juarez Garcia)
City fox on a Berlin railway facility (photo: Jon Andoni Juarez Garcia)

For wildlife, cities can present new opportunities as well as threats. Researchers from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) and the Luxembourg National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) analysed genetic material of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) inhabiting Berlin and its surroundings. They identified two genetically distinct, adjacent “urban” and “rural” fox populations and revealed that physical barriers such as rivers or man-made structures reduce the exchange between these populations but also differences in human activity in these landscapes play a major role. The researchers suggest that avoidance of sites of human activity may drive foxes into costly trade-offs as they prefer to disperse along potentially dangerous transportation infrastructures. The study was recently published in the scientific journal “Molecular Ecology”.

Anamite striped rabbit (Foto: WWF CarBi Project / Bach Ma NP)
Anamite striped rabbit (Foto: WWF CarBi Project / Bach Ma NP)

Widespread poaching in tropical biodiversity hotspots is causing unprecedented declines in wildlife populations, known as defaunation. A new study published in the journal “Diversity & Distributions”, provides evidence that large-scale systematic surveys and novel methods of data collection and analysis, are necessary to assess the extent and distribution of poaching and its impact on biodiversity in forest exposed to severe defaunation. Mapping biodiversity in this way will provide information critical to protecting rare species that may still exist in these landscapes. The research was conducted in the Annamite mountains on the border of Laos and Vietnam, an area with an exceptionally high occurrence of endemic species that is threatened by illegal poaching through the setting of wire snares. The research team, led by the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW), comprised scientists, conservationists and government counterparts, including representatives from WWF-Vietnam and WWF-Laos.

Cabinet Secretary Hon Najib Balala (Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Kenia) is watching the procedure Foto: Ami Vitale
Cabinet Secretary Hon Najib Balala (Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife, Kenia) is watching the procedure Foto: Ami Vitale

Nairobi, Kenya - In August 2019 a team of scientists and conservationists broke new ground in saving the northern white rhinoceros from extinction. They harvested eggs from the two remaining females, artificially inseminated those using frozen sperm from deceased males and created two viable northern white rhino embryos. With great support from the Kenyan Government and in the presence of Hon Najib Balala, – Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Tourism and Wildlife – the team repeated the procedure on December 17, 2019, and was able to create a new embryo over Christmas. This significantly increases the chances of successfully producing offspring. The procedure has proven to be safe and reproducible, and can be performed on a regular basis before the animals become too old. Preparations for the next steps of the northern white rhino rescue mission are underway.

Since 2012 the Giant Panda Global Awards honour conservation work for the Giant Panda all over the world. Awardees include individual pandas, offspring as well as zoological gardens, veterinary teams, keepers and other personalities with significant achievements in giving these charismatic animals a future on our planet. In the 2019 edition of the awards Prof Dr Thomas B. Hildebrandt was named “Human Panda Personality of the Year” (Gold Award) for remarkable achievements in applying assisted reproduction technologies and imaging techniques in giant panda. 

Lynx Cubs, Photo by Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Programme
Lynx Cubs, Photo by Iberian Lynx Ex-situ Conservation Programme

The reproduction of lynxes is highly mysterious. Unlike other wild cats, most lynxes are only receptive for a few days once a year. As scientists from the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Leibniz-IZW) have already shown in the past, this is a consequence of the long life of corpus lutea in the ovaries which prevents further ovulation during the course of the year. The Berlin team has now achieved another breakthrough in solving the puzzle: they were able to isolate several cell types of corpus luteum from domestic cat tissue and characterise their function in detail with the help of cell cultures. The new method can also be applied to endangered felids such as the Iberian lynx and could advance our understanding of the causes and mechanisms of the longevity of corpus lutea in lynxes. The ultimate goal in practical terms is to induce ovulation with the help of corpus luteum hormones. This would enhance the support for the reproduction of the highly endangered Iberian lynx in breeding programmes.