Lazing away the summer - Some dormice start their hibernation early

Edible dormouse (Glis glis) in a tree (Photo: © Claudia Bieber/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of an edible dormouse on a branch [Link 1]

Typically hibernation is expected to occur during winter. It is all the more astonishing that wildlife biologists from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna have shown for the first time that dormice can enter hibernation already in June or July. However, they do not do this every year.  Rather, they choose to hibernate when successful reproduction and rearing of their offspring is not possible. Early hibernation in this case serves as a strategy to decrease the risk of predation.

The article „How to spend the summer? Free‑living dormice (Glis glis) can hibernate for 11 months in non‑reproductive years [Link 2]” by Franz Hoelzl, Claudia Bieber, Jessica S. Cornils, Hanno Gerritsmann, Gabrielle L. Stalder, Chris Walzer and Thomas Ruf was published in the Journal of Comparative Physiology B [Link 3].

More info [Link 4]

(Web editor, 8 September 2015)


Nightly human-fox encounters – foxes sighted mainly in Western Vienna

Foxes are sometimes seen in the castle Schoenbrunn`s park. (Photo (c)
Photo of a fox in Schoenbrunn [Link 5]

Vienna’s inhabitants have reported about 300 foxes in the urban area to the internet platform [Link 6] during the last three months. These reports demonstrate that wild animals do not only live in remote woods, but more and more also in cities. Wildlife ecologist Theresa Walter from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna investigated when and where in Vienna one is most likely to meet a fox. First analyses show that foxes are primarily seen at night in the western districts such as Hietzing and Penzing. The results were presented at the Annual Meeting of the Ecological Society in Göttingen on 2 and 3 September 2015.

More info [Link 7]

(Web editor, 3 September 2015)




The European Hare is a picky eater

European hares need habitat with high plant diversity, where they can find fatty grasses and herbs. (Photo Jiří Nedorost_Lizenz
CC BY-SA 3.0 via
Wikimedia Commons)
Photo of a European hare [Link 8]

In many children´s books one can find pictures of a hare in a cabbage patch. In reality, European hares have high nutritional requirements, which large-scale intensively farmed monoculture fields often cannot meet.  Hares have a relatively high energy demand. Unlike small mammals they do not live in protective burrows or nests, which would help with body temperature regulation. Hare mothers give birth to precocious, rapidly growing young that are exposed to all kinds of weather conditions. Hare mothers feed their young with energy-rich high-fat maternal milk (containing more than 20% fat). For milk production the hare mothers therefore need sufficient body fat reserves. Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) seem to be especially important for reproduction and survival of the hares. In collaboration with the Institute of Wildlife Biology and Game Management of the University of Agricultural Sciences the researchers have now carried out a multiyear study in the agricultural landscapes of eastern Austria, which showed that hares prefer fatty plants and plant-parts all year round.  Surprisingly the researchers did not find a preference for plants with a high PUFA content. An adequate supply of these essential components of the diet appears to be ensured by their specific extraction in the digestive tract. Overall, the results suggest that the promotion of heterogeneous cultural landscapes with high plant diversity and fallow land could counteract the Europe-wide decline in hare populations.

The article “The European Hare (Lepus europaeus): A Picky Herbivore Searching for Plant Parts Rich in Fat [Link 9]” by Stephanie Schai-Braun, Thomas Reichlin, Thomas Ruf, Erich Klansek, Frieda Tataruch, Walter Arnold and Klaus Hackländer appeared in July 2015 in the journal PLOS ONE [Link 10].

More info [Link 11]

(Web editor, 1 September 2015)


Wild boars are gaining ground – climate change boosts population growth

Wild boars produce a very large number of offspring compared to other ungulates. (Photo: Sebastian Vetter/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of wild boar piglets with mother [Link 12]

The wild boar population in Europe is growing. However, the reasons for this growth were not yet clear. Sebastian Vetter and other scientists from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) have now found out that climate change plays a major role. The number of wild boars grows particularly after mild winters. Food availability is also a decisive factor. There are more wild boars after years with high beechnut yield. Vetter and the research team at FIWI working with wild boars are going to continue their research in this field.

The article „What Is a Mild Winter? Regional Differences in Within-Species Responses to Climate Change [Link 13]" by Sebastian G. Vetter, Thomas Ruf, Claudia Bieber, and Walter Arnold was published in the Journal Plos One [Link ].

More info [Link 14]

(Web editor, 12 August 2015)


The trouble with hares

Many factors can cause hares to die. (Photo "Feldhase, Lepus europaeus 4a" by F. Böhringer - Licensed under CC BY-SA 2.5 via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo of a running hare [Link 15]

Some years ago, the brown hare population on the German North-Sea island Pellworm, one of the best hunting districts for small game species in northern Germany, declined suddenly and dramatically after a long period of population stability.  The massive die-off was preceded by marked habitat changes, primarily a switch to intensive corn production for bioenergy, leading both to habitat loss and to a potentially higher pathogen load in the environment from increased manuring.  Annika Posautz  and colleagues from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) and other research institutes undertook  a long-term health assessment programme of the Pellworm hare population. The researchers performed post-mortem examinations on 110 hares.   The most striking result was a shift in the intestinal bacterial flora of the hares to massive infections of two common bacterial pathogens, as well as a marked incidence of parasitic infestations of the hares´ intestinal tracts. 

The authors conclude that the change of the habitat combined with other stressors, such as bad weather, may have increased the animals’ sensitivity to common bacterial species and parasites that would not have such fatal consequences under more favourable conditions.

The article “Health screening of free-ranging European brown hares (Lepus europaeus) on the German North-Sea island Pellworm [Link 16]” was published online in the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica [Link 17] on 4 August 2015.

(Web editor, 6 August 2015)


Stress-check for Alpine chamois – testing a well-established method

Individual chamois excrete different levels of the stress hormone cortisol, making data interpretation tricky. (Photo C. Walzer)
Photo of a running chamois

The measurement of stress in animals has in recent years often been used to assess animal welfare and well-being.  The level of stress hormones (e.g. glucocorticoids such as cortisol) can be measured relatively easily and cheaply and most importantly, non-invasively by sampling faecal matter.  For this reason, researchers have examined faecal hormone metabolites to assess stress or reproductive status in many species.

Now scientists at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and the Institute of Medical Biochemistry of the Vetmeduni Vienna have put this method to a rigorous test in free-ranging wild animals.  They found that cortisol levels in individual animals varied greatly depending on time of day and year, and that faecal cortisol metabolites are massively influenced by a variety of factors.  For field researchers this means that this tool is exquisitely context specific and requires careful planning of the sampling procedure and even more care in data interpretation.

The paper “Faecal cortisol metabolites to assess stress in wildlife: Evaluation of a field method in free ranging chamois [Link 18]” by Ulrike Hadinger, Agnes Haymerle, Felix Knauer, Franz Schwarzenberger, and Chris Walzer was published online on 20 July 2015 in the Journal Methods in Ecology and Evolution [Link 19].

More info [Link 20]

(Web editor, 4 August 2015)


Ecophysiology of Omega Fatty Acids: A Lid for Every Jar

The function of proteins in cell membranes (green) is evidently influenced by situation- dependent fatty acid composition (Figure (c) FIWI)
Graphic representation of membrane function [Link 21]

Researchers from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology has come up with some new hypotheses on the function of unsaturated fatty acids (Omega fatty acids), derived from an analysis of a multitude of scientific publications on the function of polyunsaturated fatty acids, which animals have to take up through food.  Their findings are of importance for future research in medicine and wilflife biology.  

The paper reaches the conclusion that the optimal fatty acid composition of cell membranes is situation-dependent and independent of the actual uptate of Omega-fatty acids through food. This completely new point of view opens promising perspectives for future research.  The article “Ecophysiology of Omega Fatty Acids: A Lid for Every Jar [Link 22]” byWalter Arnold, Sylvain Giroud, Teresa Valencak, and Thomas Ruf appeared in May 2015 in the jounral Physiology.

More info [Link 23]

(Web editor, 21 July 2015)


The rhythm cells go by – Daily changes in human cells

Fatty acid composition in human cell membranes changes throughout the day. (Photo: Susanne Schwaiger)
Photo of a marine sunset [Link 24]

Life is subject to natural rhythms, such as the light and dark cycle or seasonal variation in temperature. A recent study by researchers at the Vetmeduni Vienna, shows that the composition of human cell membranes varies depending on the time of day. These cyclical changes in cell membranes could have a significant impact on health and disease.  This may help to explain why certain diseases and even death tend to occur at specific times of day. In addition to consuming sufficient quantities of important healthy fatty acids such as omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil or oleic acids in olive oil, it may also be important to choose the right time for intake. The article  „Daily and Seasonal Rhythms in Human Mucosa Phospholipid Fatty Acid Composition [Link 25]” by Thomas Ruf and Walter Arnold was published in the Journal of Biological Rhythms.

More info [Link 26]

(Web editor, 20 July 2015)


People and nature – does the dualistic world view exist in Europe´s conservation practice?

Photo of a landscape with lake [Link 27]
The close connection between culture and nature in Europe is complex, but also enriching and has managed to maintain or enable the return of a multitude of landscape types and animal species. (Photos P. Kaczensky)
Photo of horses grazing on an alpine pasture [Link 28]

There are two classic approaches to nature conservation:  the dualistic approach, which strictly separates culture from nature, and the integrative approach, which unites them.  Does this classic separation really exist in European conservation practice?  Using examples from landscape, - species,- and protected area management the authors of a recent article in the journal Conservation Biology show that conservation in Europe tends to be much more pragmatic.  There is no clear definition of a strictly defined separation of nature and culture.  The boundaries between "wild" and "domesticated", between protected areas and surrounding landscapes, are blurred and change over time as a result of shifts in societal preferences.  At a landscape level the practical and legal specifications in Europe unify people and nature, e.g. by regarding both cultural landscapes and use of natural areas as worth protecting, or by applying species protection measures beyond protected area boundaries.  Nevertheless, increasingly there appears to be value placed on wilderness - areas where natural processes can take place without direct human influence -, but these only make up a small proportion of European land surface.  For the future of nature conservation in Europe it is important to recognize the complexity of the value of "nature" and to consider it in planning and implementation. 

The article "Framing the relationship between people and nature in the context of European conservation [Link 29]" by John D. C. Linnell, Petra Kaczensky (FIWI), Ulrich Wotschikowsky, Nicolas Lescureuxund Luigi Boitaniwas published in the journal Conservation Biology erschienen.

(Web editor, 2 June 2015)


Open House celebrating the Vetmeduni Vienna´s anniversary year

The Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution was represented with many interesting stations. (Photo Vetmeduni Vienna/ Dept.5)
Photo of Dept.5 island on the Vetmeduni Open House Day 2015 [Link 30]

The Vetmeduni Vienna celebrated its 250th anniversary year on 30 May 2015 with a special Open House day.   The university campus was open to visitors, and research institutes, clinics, and public areas hosted many public events.  Animal lovers, people interested in research activities, prospective students, and of course children flocked to the campus.  Overall 5.330 visitors came! The Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution with its two institutes, the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, provided insights into the fascinating world of wildlife research.  

More info [Link 31]

(Web editor, 1 June 2015)


New web platform for wildlife sightings in Vienna launched

Foxes evidently like Vienna. (Photo:
Photo of a fox in a park [Link 32]

Wild animals are increasingly moving into urban habitats.  To investigate exactly where and what species are establishing a presence in Vienna, researchers at the Vetmeduni Vienna have created the web platform "StadtWildTiere" in Vienna.  Richard Zink of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna initiated this platform, which was initially developed by the Association StadtNatur (urban nature) for Austria.  Citizens are invited to participate in this citizen science project.  Observations feed into research projects [Link 33] and can be viewed online on a map.

More info (in German)
 [Link 34]

Link to the website StadtWildTiere [Link 35]

(Web editor, 29 May 2015)


Exhibition "Consequential Choices - Versions of Atlas Making"

Invitation - Graphic design (c) 2015 Pepa Bugueiro Domingo
Invitation image [Link 36]

The exhibition "Consequential Choices - Versions of Atlas Making [Link 37]" opened on Tuesday 26th May 2015 at the Angewandte Innovation Laboratory (Franz Josefs Kai 3, entrance Wiesingerstraße 9, 1010 Vienna). The exhibit  presents works of students of the Art & Science master’s programme, University of Applied Arts Vienna.  The art project´s theme is the question what happens when the creation of a scientific atlas is (re)enacted at the margins of a discipline where it meets the (in)consequential choices of artistic research.  Prof. Chris Walzer of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology is scientific advisor to the Art & Science master’s programme.  The exhibition is open from 27 May to 2 June 2015, Mo to Fr from 11 am to 8 pm.

(Web editor, 28 May 2015)


Energy and nature in the Alps: a balancing act

The Podium discussion on "renewable energy and nature protection in the Oberallgäu – a contradiction?" was well attended. (Photo (c) CIPRA)
Photo of the final conference [Link 38]
Conference participants took active part in the discussion. (Photo (c) CIPRA)
Photo of conference participants [Link 39]

When we produce energy with water, biomass, wind and solar technology, the global climate benefits.  But the production of renewable energy can also have negative impacts on the various ecosystem services that nature provides us with, such as clean water and air, carbon sequestration, or recreational opportunities.   The project has developed methods to aid decision making that can help with sustainable land use.  Most importantly, biodiversity and natural ecosystems should be conserved in a state that allows them to continue fulfilling their useful functions.  The expansion of renewable energy production facilities therefore has to be planned carefully, bearing such trade-offs in mind.  On 21 and 22 May 2015 the project partners from the Alpine region presented their results to the public during the final conference in Sonthofen, Germany.  Participants were invited to discuss these topics with the experts.  

More info on the project [Link 40]

Summary of the results by IIASA [Link 41]

(Web editor, 25 May 2015)


The latest FIWI annual report 2014 has arrived

Annual report 2014
Cover image FIWI annual report 2014 [Link 42]

To download the report  (in German) please klick on the cover image.  You can find all FIWI annual reports on our info page [Link 43].


The hairy past - Tail hair as an indicator of behaviour and ecology in horses

A Przewalski's mare with her foal in the Mongolian Gobi desert. (Foto: Martina Burnik Šturm)
Photo of a Przewalski-horse mare with foal [Link 44]

Life style leaves chemical traces in hair. In horses, the analysis of tail hair is especially suited as the length of the hair can provide information over a long period of time. Determining the exact period of time that corresponds to a segment of hair is not trivial. Hair does not grow at the same rate in all horses. Petra Kaczensky and Martina Burnik Sturm of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology have now solved this problem. They developed a method to correctly assign individual hair growth to seasons and thus to a specific time frame. The results were published in the journal  Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry [Link 45].  

More info [Link 46]

(Web editor, 7 May 2015)



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