The research programme of the Leibniz-IZW is based on its mission of conducting evolutionary wildlife research for conservation. This mission is used to work towards the vision of understanding and improving the adaptability of wildlife in the face of global change.
In order to implement a research agenda in the spirit of this mission, the Leibniz-IZW combines different fields of biology and veterinary medicine. Conducting long-term projects that bridge field studies, laboratory work, biobanking, data analysis, mathematical modelling and interaction with stakeholders gives us the opportunity to elucidate both the function and evolutionary consequences of traits. This allows us to address questions in a comprehensive and integrative fashion and to gain deeper insights than would be possible in short-term, monodisciplinary studies. For instance, we can understand ecological effects at the species level much better when taking into account the mechanisms with which individuals respond to environmental change. Integrating disciplines such as genetics or stable isotope ecology with spatial modelling opens new perspectives for biodiversity assessment. And by linking the expertise of veterinary scientists and biologists, we can elucidate the reproduction biology of wildlife or diagnose previously unknown diseases in wildlife.
The Leibniz-IZW is active in the three Programme Areas “Research on adaptability of wildlife populations in the context of global change”, “Method development, infrastructures and services to the scientific community”, and “Knowledge transfer and exchange”. In particular, the Leibniz-IZW works to achieve the following programme goals in the three programme areas:
Traits: Understanding traits and evolutionary adaptations
In this research focus we study with which mechanisms wildlife populations respond to natural and anthropogenic environmental changes and challenges, i.e. what their “evolutionary equipment” is, including behavioural, reproductive, physiological, immunological and ecological traits and reaction norms. This also includes an understanding of the evolutionary past of a species and the evolution of important wildlife pathogens.
Health: Understanding wildlife health and disturbed homeostasis
In our vision to understand adaptability, wildlife health is a major factor. Diseases can render populations more vulnerable to environmental change, and conversely, anthropogenic impacts can make wildlife more susceptible to disease. We investigate how individuals cope with allostatic load (“stress”), infectious as well as non-infectious diseases and how these factors interact with (other) environmental change(s).
Challenges: Understanding the environmental context
In order to assess how wildlife will respond to environmental change, we need to understand what exactly the changes and challenges are. Work within this programme goal focuses on species interactions (e.g., with pathogens or invasive species) as well as anthropogenic influences such as land-use change, human-wildlife conflicts or climate change. We also use our insights to identify and clarify conservation challenges, often through dialogue with stakeholders and society at large.
Conservation: Improving population viability
Based on a comprehensive understanding of the evolutionary equipment of wildlife and the challenges they face, we develop novel concepts and methods for conservation. We aim to improve population viability on different levels: We develop and transfer the scientific basis for conservation decisions, perform science-based veterinary interventions, for instance in terms of assisted reproduction techniques, engage in stakeholder dialogue for the development and co-design of research projects with conservation aims, and use our competence in mathematical modelling to forecast the consequences of anthropogenic impacts and the success of potential conservation measures.
Tools: Development of theory, methods and tools
We contribute to advancing the research fields in which we operate conceptually, by developing novel perspectives and theory. In addition, we regularly improve existing or develop new methodological tools and invest effort to make new developments available to the scientific community.