Reproduction biology of lynx – basic research for conservation breeding of Iberian lynx

The Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus Temminck, 1827), a specialist predator of wild rabbits, exclusively found on the Iberian Peninsula, was declared as critically endangered (IUCN 2002). As a consequence, an integrated species conservation plan which links in situ conservation efforts with a conservation breeding program – the Iberian Lynx Conservation Breeding Program (ILCBP)-  was started to prevent the Iberian lynx from extinction. Researchers of the Leibniz-Institute for Zoo- and Wildlife Research (IZW) are scientific partners of the Iberian lynx conservation program since 2005. Thanks to our research on lynx reproduction biology and assisted reproduction, we significantly contributed to the conservation of biodiversity on the Iberian Peninsula.


Project details
Duration: since 11/2005
Third-party funded: yes
Involved Department(s): Dept Reproduction Biology, Dept Reproduction Management
Leibniz-IZW Project Leader(s): Katarina Jewgenow, Beate Braun (all: Dept Reproduction Biology), Frank Göritz (Dept Reproduction Management)
Leibniz-IZW Project Team: Michal Hryciuk (Dept Reproduction Biology)
Consortium Partner(s): -
Current Funding Organisation: German Science Foundation (DFG)
Research Foci:
Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
Improving population viability
Development of theory, methods and tools

Our research is also relevant for other lynx species. In Central Europe the Eurasian lynx is found, of which in Germany the extant population is still small and fragmented. Besides focusing on reproduction biology, the IZW supports the return of Eurasian lynxes to Germany also through other projects (Dept EvolGen, Dept EvolDyn) and performs comparative studies  between two sister taxa,  the Eurasian and the genetically impoverished Iberian lynx, by investigating the impact of the immune status (Dept WildlDis). 

Within this long-term project we consequently investigated different facets of lynx biology. Here we present the most recent aspects of our research on reproduction biology:

We not only successfully established a new method for non-invasive pregnancy diagnosis in lynxes and other feline species and validated an assay for faecal glucocorticoid determination in lynxes but also elucidated a unique reproductive peculiarity of lynxes in comparison to other felids.

Project focus: luteal function in lynx species

Lynxes show the reproductive peculiarity of persistent corpora lutea (CL). We comprehensively characterized lynx CL in comparison to cat CL with the aim to use this knowledge for estrous management of Iberian lynx and other feline species. Molecular expression patterns were compared between persistent lynx CL and life cycle stages of CL from domestic cat to identify factors which are responsible for CL persistency. Beside prostaglandin E (PGE), we recognized estrogen and prolactin as potential luteotrophic factors (DFG funded).

Because of the restricted access to wildlife animals we successfully established protocols for short-term luteal cell cultures to further investigate luteal life cycle regulation in feline species and to develop protocols for artificial luteolysis of persistent CL.

I am Michal Hryciuk, postdoctoral researcher in Department 4. If you would like to know more about my project, please watch the video!

Project focus: pregnancy diagnosis

The gold standard for pregnancy diagnosis is ultrasound confirmation. Practically, this is generally unfeasible without physical or chemical restraint in most zoo- and wildlife species. An alternative way to predict, or tentatively confirm, ongoing pregnancy, is non-invasive endocrine monitoring. This is fairly easy in some species (e.g. progesterone-metabolite analysis in elephants), but remains extremely challenging in other species, particularly those showing delayed implantation and pseudopregnancy, amongst them canine, feline and bear species. In our laboratory, a PGFM (Prostaglandin F2alpha) assay was developed for late-term pregnancy diagnosis in lynxes which is successfully used in the conservation breeding programme.

Selected Publications

Braun BC, Jewgenow K (2022): Role of sex steroids and prostaglandins during the luteal life cycle in domestic cats and lynxes. DOMEST ANIM ENDOCRINOL 78,106689. doi: 10.1016/j.domaniend.2021.106689.

Hryciuk MM, Jewgenow K, Braun BC (2021): Cloprostenol, a synthetic analog of prostaglandin F2α induces functional regression in cultured luteal cells of felids. BIOL REPROD 105(1), 137-147. doi: 10.1093/biolre/ioab070

Hryciuk MM, Jewgenow K, Braun BC (2021): Luteinizing Hormone Effect on Luteal Cells Is Dependent on the Corpus Luteum Stage in Felids. ANIMALS (BASEL) 11, 179. doi: 10.3390/ani11010179.

Jewgenow K, Braun BC, Dehnhard M, Zahmel J, Goeritz F (2017): Research on reproduction is essential for captive breeding of endangered carnivore species. REPROD DOM ANIM 52, Suppl. 2, 18-23. doi:10.1111/rda.12836.

Pribbenow S, Jewgenow K, Serra R, Naidenko S, Vargas A, Dehnhard M (2014): Validation of an enzyme immunoassay for the measurement of faecal glucocorticoid metabolites in Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus). GEN COMP ENDOCRINOL 206, 166-177. doi:10.1016/j.ygcen.2014.07.015.

Painer J, Goeritz F, Dehnhard M, Hildebrandt TB, Naidenko SV, Sánchez I, Quevedo Muñoz MA, Jewgenow K (2014): Hormone-induced luteolysis on physiologically persisting Corpora lutea in Eurasian and Iberian Lynx (Lynx lynx and L. pardinus). THERIOGENOLOGY 82, 557-562. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2014.05.004.

Mueller K, Koster S, Painer J, Söderberg A, Gavier-Widèn D, Dehnhard M, Jewgenow K (2014): Testosterone production and spermatogenesis in free-ranging Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) throughout the year. EUR J WILD RES 60, 569-577. doi:10.1007/s10344-014-0821-4.

Painer J, Jewgenow K, Dehnhard M, Arnemo JM, Linnell JDC, Odden J, Hildebrandt TB, Goeritz F (2014): Physiologically persistent corpora lutea in Eurasian Lynx (Lynx lynx) - Longitudinal Ultrasound and Endocrine Examinations intra-vitam. PLOS ONE 9, e90469. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0090469.

Project focus: luteal function in lynx species

Braun BC, Halaski N, Painer J, Krause E, Jewgenow K (2020): The antioxidative enzyme SOD2 is important for physiological persistence of corpora lutea in lynxes. SCI REP 10(1), 3681. doi: 10.1038/s41598-020-60634-x

Hryciuk MM, Braun BC, Bailey LD, Jewgenow K (2019): Functional and morphological characterization of small and large steroidogenic luteal cells from domestic cats before and during culture. FRONT ENDOCRINOL 10, 724, e471885. doi:10.3389/fendo.2019.00724.

Amelkina O, Zschockelt L, Painer J, Serra R, Villaespesa F, Jewgenow K, Braun BC (2017): Progesterone, estrogen and androgen receptors in the corpus luteum of the domestic cat, Iberian lynx (Lynx pardinus) and Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx). THERIOGENOLOGY 86, 2107-2118. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2016.06.026.

Zschockelt L, Amelkina O, Siemieniuch M, Kowalewski M, Dehnhard M, Jewgenow K, Braun BC (2016): Contribution of luteal prostaglandin synthesis and reception to lifespan of feline corpora lutea. REPRODUCTION 152, 111-126. doi:10.1530/REP-16-0180.

Amelkina O, Zschockelt L, Painer J, Serra R, Villaespesa F, Braun BC, Jewgenow K (2015): Apoptosis-related factors in the luteal phase of the domestic cat and their involvement in the persistence of corpora lutea in lynxes. PLOS ONE 10, e0143414. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143414.

Zschockelt L, Amelkina O, Koster S, Painer J, Okuyama MW, Serra R, Vargas A, Jewgenow K, Braun BC (2015): Comparative analysis of intraluteal steroidogenic enzymes emphasises the functionality of fresh and persistent corpora lutea during pro- and metoestrus in the lynx. J STEROID BIOCHEM MOL BIOL 154, 75 - 84. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2015.07.001.

Amelkina O, Braun BC, Dehnhard M, Jewgenow K (2014): Corpus luteum during pregnancy and pseudopregnancy in domestic cat: histological classification of stages and intraluteal hormone profile. THERIOGENOLOGY 83, 711 - 720. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2014.11.008.

Zschockelt L, Amelkina O, Siemieniuch MJ, Jewgenow K, Braun BC (2014): Corpora lutea of pregnant and pseudopregnant domestic cats reveal equal steroidogenic capacities during the luteal life span. J STEROID BIOCHEM MOL BIOL 144, 373 - 381. doi:10.1016/j.jsbmb.2014.08.010.

Project focus: pregnancy diagnosis

Dehnhard M, Naidenko SV, Jewgenow K (2017): Metabolism of Prostaglandin F2alpha in Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) and Asian leopard cat (Prionailurus bengalensis euptilura). REPROD DOM ANIM 52, Suppl. 2, 45-51. doi:10.1111/rda.12894.

Umapathy G, Jewgenow K, Dehnhard M (2015): Non-invasive pregnancy diagnosis in big cats using the PGFM (13,14-dihydro-15-keto-PGF2α) assay. PLOS ONE 10, e0143958. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0143958.

Dehnhard M, Naidenko SV, Jewgenow K (2014): Comparative metabolism of PGFM (13,14-dihydro-15-keto-PGF2alpha) in feces of felids. THERIOGENOLOGY 81, 733-743. doi:10.1016/j.theriogenology.2013.12.007.