FIWI Annual Report 2015

The 2015 annual report (in German) can be downloaded here (click on the image).
Cover photo of the annual report 2015

 

News

 

Invitation to the Citizen Science Award Ceremony

Logo Young Science [Link 1]

The Federal Ministry for Science, Research and the Economy and the Austrian exchange service are inviting to this year´s Citizen Science Award Ceremony on 13 December 2016 at 5 p.m. at the  great hall (Festsaal) of the University of Vienna.

From 1 April to 30 September 2016, interested parties were invited to participate in 10 citizen science projects. The most committed citizen scientists will receive an award from the German Federal Ministry of Science, Research and Economics and the scientific project leaders. The project "StadtWildTiere [Link 2]" of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology is also taking part in the event.  To attend the ceremony registration [Link 3] is required by 6 December 2016.

(Web editor, 20 October 2016)

 

Tail hairs reveal dietary choices of three horse species in the Gobi Desert

If you know how fast the hairs grow, you can date specific hair segments and clearly assign them to a certain season. Consecutive hair segments therefore provide valuable information about the diet and water balance of an individual animal. (Photo P. Kaczensky)
Photo of Przewalkski´s horses [Link 4]

Przewalski’s horses, a species of wild horse that has been successfully reintroduced to the Gobi Desert, share their pasture grounds with wild asses and free-roaming domestic horses. A scarce supply of food could lead to food competition among the different species, especially if they make the same dietary choices. A team led by Martina Burnik Šturm and other researchers from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna therefore chemically analysed the tail hairs of the animals to determine the seasonal dietary habits of the three species. While the wild ass switches from being a grazer in the summer to also browse in the winter, the wild and domestic horses eat exclusively grass all year round. In the lean winter months, this leads to increased food competition between wild and domestic horses. This realisation could help improve wildlife management measures for the Przewalski’s horse in the future.

The chemical analysis used by Burnik Šturm and Kaczensky measures so-called stable isotopes in the tail hairs. Stable isotopes are atoms of of the same chemical element with the same number of protons but different number of neutrons and thus with different masses. The isotope values in the body tissue of living organisms are the result of the isotope values in the environment and of the animal’s metabolism. An exact understanding of the dietary behaviour of the Przewalski’s horse and the khulan are important for improving the conditions in the protected area.

The article "Sequential stable isotope analysis reveals differences in dietary history of three sympatric equid species in the Mongolian Gobi [Link 5]" by Martina Burnik Šturm, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, Christian C. Voigt, and Petra Kaczensky was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

More info [Link 6]

(Web editor, 30 November 2016)

 

Water availability as a key driver of khulan mobility in the Gobi

 [Link 7]
 [Link 8]

In resource-poor environments many large herbivores do not perform seasonal migrations but show unpredictable, year round long-range movements. The few studies that have examined drivers of long-range movements suggest that they are a response to volatile dynamics of foraging resources.  Asiatic wild asses (khulan) in the Mongolian Gobi are highly mobile, traveling large distances to find forage and water.  Led by Dejid Nandintsetseg , a group of Mongolian and international scientists, including Petra Kaczensky of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, used six years of ground census data (see Figure 1) and time-matched remotely sensed imagery of vegetation productivity to build habitat models.  Although they found that vegetation productivity was an important predictor of khulan presence, it actually varied little within and among years, thus making it an unlikely driver for the large scale movements of khulan in this region. However, the model also showed that khulan avoid habitats that are further than 21 km from water sources and together with additional telemetry data the results suggest that water availability and switching among the sparsely located water bodies may be the key driver for the high mobility of khulan in the Dzungarian Gobi.

A key finding of relevance for policy makers and conservationists is the need to ensure functional connectivity among water bodies in dryland ecosystems.  Further studies are needed to identify and understand the full range of possible drivers of nomadic wildlife movements in drylands as a basis to maintain long-term landscape connectivity in a changing world.

The article "Spatiotemporal habitat dynamics of ungulates in unpredictable environments: The khulan (Equus hemionus) in the Mongolian Gobi desert as a case study" [Link 9] by Dejid Nandintsetseg, Petra Kaczensky, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, Peter Leimgruber, and Thomas Mueller was published in the journal Biological Conservation in November 2016.

(Web editor, 29 November 2016)

 

Edible Dormice: The older they get, the more they rejuvenate their cells

The reduction of telomeres, a biological marker for aging, is stopped in older edible dormice. The telomeres are elongated instead. (Photo: J. Cornils/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of edible dormice in nest box [Link 10]

In normal somatic cells, telomeres are shortened with every cell division. Besides, oxidative stress has a strong effect on telomere erosion. However, the rate of telomere shortening differs between species. For instance, it has been shown before that telomeres in fast-aging, short-lived wild animals erode more rapidly than in slow-aging, long-lived species.  The shortening of telomeres in cells was thought to be an important biomarker for lifespan and aging. The edible dormouse (Glis glis), a small hibernating rodent, now turns everything upside down. In contrast to humans and other animals, telomere length in the edible dormouse significantly increases in the second half of its life, as Franz Hoelzl and other researchers from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna found out just recently.

The article "Telomeres are elongated in older individuals in a hibernating rodent, the edible dormouse (Glis glis) [Link 11]" by Franz Hoelzl, Steve Smith, Jessica S. Cornils, Denise Aydinonat, Claudia Bieber, and Thomas Ruf was published in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group).

More info [Link 12]

(Web editor, 24 November 2016)

 

Human activities have the greatest influence on habitat use of the world´s largest populations of wild ass and goitered gazelles

Photo of Asiatic wild asses [Link 13]
The Southern Gobi of Mongolia is an iconic ungulate stronghold that supports the world's largest populations of Asiatic wild ass (or khulan) and goitered gazelle. (Photos © P. Kaczensky)
 [Link 14]

Mongolia's Gobi Desert ecosystem is a stronghold for populations of the Asiatic wild ass (khulan) and the goitered gazelle, but it faces conservation challenges as a result of rapid economic development, including mining-related infrastructure projects.  Data on population sizes for these ungulates are scarce.  Over the past several years Mongolian and international researchers, among them Petra Kaczensky from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, undertook a survey of these species over an area of almost 79.000 km2.  Under the lead of B. Buuveibaatara  the scientists´ findings confirm that the Gobi Desert supports the largest populations of khulan and goitered gazelles in the world.  Their research also suggests that in areas of greater human presence or activity, ungulate presence declines.  Based on habitat models, which the scientists built for both species, they found that human-associated factors are more important than environmental variables in explaining the distribution of the two species.  These findings were corroborated by telemetry data of marked individuals.  The scientists´ findings are highly relevant for policy makers, managers, and industry to plan mitigation measures helping to reduce the impacts of the human footprint on Mongolian wildlife.

The article Human activities negatively impact distribution of ungulates in the Mongolian Gobi [Link 15] by B. Buuveibaatara, T. Mueller, S. Strindberg, P. Leimgruber, P. Kaczensky, and T.K. Fuller was published in the journal Biological Conservation in November 2016.

The article Mongolian Gobi supports the world's largest populations of khulan Equus hemionus and goitered gazelles Gazella subgutturosa [Link 16] by B. Buuveibaatar [Link 17], S. Strindberg [Link 18], P. Kaczensky [Link 19], J. Payne [Link 20], B. Chimeddorj [Link 21], G. Naranbaatar [Link 22], S. Amarsaikhan [Link 23], B. Dashnyam [Link 24], T. Munkhzul [Link 25], T. Purevsuren [Link 26], D.A. Hosack [Link 27] and T.K. Fuller [Link 28] appeared in the journal Oryx (First View on 21 June 2016)

(Web editor, 16 November 2016)

 

New Saker falcon record in Austria: 64 young in the breeding season 2016

Despite the renewed breeding success the Saker falcon is an endangered species in Austria (Photo © Richard Zink/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of a young Saker falcon [Link 29]
Artificial nest boxes on power line masts are offered to and readily accepted by the birds. (Photo © Franz Kovacs)
Photo of the nest box for a Saker falcon on a power line mast [Link 30]

By the mid-1970s the Saker falcon (Falco cherrug) was considered as almost extinct in Austria.  However, over the past few years that has been a strong positive population development trend, partly thanks to the mounting of nesting aids on powerline masts. This has been documented since 2010 by Dr. Richard Zink from the Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology of Vetmeduni Vienna and BirdLife Austria. The project is supported by Austrian Power Grid AG, which finances it and enables the mounting of nesting aids on its network.

The breeding season 2016 constitutes a record for the Saker falcon in every respect and continues the success story of the conservation of these rare birds of prey. 36 breeding pairs reared 64 young birds, 12 young falcons more than in the previous year. Despite this notable upward trend the Saker falcon still belongs to the list of endangered birds of prey in Austria.

More info (in German)
 [Link 31]

(Web editor, 21 October 2016)

 

New book: Alpine Nature 2030 Creating [ecological] connectivity for generations to come

The book Alpine Nature 2030 (ISBN 978-3-00-053702-8) was published in September 2016. To view or download it klick on the photo.
Book cover Alpine Nature 2030 [Link 32]

A new book [Link ] on nature conservation in the Alpine region, which scientists of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology edited and co-authored, underlines the themes and results of a long-term process of collaboration with the Network of Alpine Protected Areas ALPARC with a multitude of partners in Alpine countries, aimed at the establishment of comprehensive, technical, political and strategic principles for implementing the Nature Protection and Landscape Conservation Protocol of the Alpine Convention.  The focus of this collaboration is in particular the establishment of an Alps-wide ecological network to contribute to the conservation of European biodiversity.  

The books was first presented at the fourth AlpWeek 2016, which took place in October in Grassau/Achental (Germany).  In addition to the handbook, three video clips "Life needs connectivity- Three love stories" were produced, which illustrate the concepts of "ecological connectivity" in an entertaining way.  You can have a look at the videos at the ALPARC Youtube platform [Link 33].

More info [Link 34]

(Web editor, 19 October 2016)

 

Closing the data gap on stable isotopes in precipitation in the Mongolian desert

The stable isotopes in the river Bij and other water bodies in the Djungarian Gobi steppe are now available in the international isotope database. (Photo Martina Burnik Sturm, Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of the Bij river in Mongolia [Link 35]

Stable isotopes (atoms of the same element with the same number of protons but different number of neutrons in the nucleus, and thus with different masses) are powerful forensic recorders that can be linked to large scale patterns in the landscape. Over the last decade, global hydrogen and oxygen isotopic patterns of precipitation have increasingly been used in studies on animal migration, forensics, food authentication and traceability studies. However, records of the stable isotope composition of precipitation spanning one or more years are available for only a few hundred locations worldwide.

Data for Mongolia are especially scarce;  there were none at all for the Dzungarian Gobi until Martina Burnik Šturm and Petra Kaczensky from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and colleagues were able to close this gap by providing the first field-based data for this extremely arid environment on the hydrogen and oxygen isotope values of precipitation, as well as for rivers and various other water bodies.

More info [Link 36]

(Web editor, 14 October 2016)

 

Citizen Science: The first scientific publication on the project StadtWildTiere (urban wildlife) is out

Foxes are frequently seen in Vienna´s gardens and parks. (Photo Archive StadtWildTiere)
Fox on a road [Link 37]

Our team "StadtWildTiere" (urban wildlife) is pleased to announce that their first short publication on the project is now online.  The project team presents first results of project activities that were begun in 2015.  Public parks, gardens and other urban green spaces provide habitat for foxes, badgers and other mammals, and also for birds, reptiles and amphibians.  An impressive 3384 wildlife sightings were collected via the  Internet-Plattform [Link 38] of the project [Link ] between 27 May 2015 and 9. February 2016

The article „Where pathways cross: citizen science project StadtWildTiere in Vienna, Austria [Link 39]" by Richard Zink and Theresa Walter was published OPEN ACCESS (free for all) in the online journal Frontiers.

(Web editor, 9 September 2016)

 

High food availability slows down cell aging in edible dormice

The research team analyzed DNA and hence the length of the telomeres in saliva of the dormouse to describe the cell age. The so called arousals increase the cell aging of the dormouse. High food availability during the active phase not only compensates this effect, it also rejuvenates the cells. (Photo: Vetmeduni Vienna)
Young edible dormice in nest box [Link 40]

Hibernation has long been considered the secret behind the relatively long lifespan of the edible dormouse. However, a team of researchers from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) has now shown for the first time that high food availability during the active season in summer contributes to a long life. Increased food availability during this time allows the animals to slow their cellular aging. The study was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

“Telomeres get shorter with every cell division and are therefore considered a biological marker of ageing”, explains Franz Hoelzl from Vetmeduni Vienna’s FIWI. Telomeres form protective caps at the ends of the chromosomes to prevent genomic degradation. When the telomeres become too short, cell division is no longer possible and the cell looses the potential to divide and dies. It had previously been assumed that the slow-down of body functions during hibernation was responsible for decreasing the rate of telomere degradation. The edible dormouse’s long torpor-phases would thus contribute to its high life expectancy.

The article „Telomere dynamics in free-living edible dormice (Glis glis): the impact of hibernation and food supply [Link 41]“ by Franz Hölzl, Jessica S. Cornils, Steve Smith, Yoshan Moodley and Thomas Ruf was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

More info [Link 42]

(Web editor, 2 September 2016)

 

Caught in the wire: The rise of border security fences forces reconsideration of wildlife conservation strategies in Eurasia

The migration of Asiatic wild ass in the Gobi is cut off by border fences. (Photo P. Kaczensky)
Photo of wild ass at the border fence [Link 43]
Fences can be deadly obstacles for wildlife. (Photo Dejan Kaps)
Photo of a dead red deer caught in a fence [Link 44]

Between 25.000 and 30.000 kilometres of wire fences and walls surrounds the borders of many countries in Eastern Europe and Central Asia. This is killing wildlife that becomes entangled and acts as a barrier to wildlife movements, cutting species off from important seasonal habitats. The long-term consequences are a lower viability of wildlife populations, and a reduction in their ability to respond to climate change. This situation forces a re-think of transboundary conservation strategies.

Petra Kaczensky from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and colleagues from various international research institutions present for the first time an overview of the current situation and the resulting challenges, including for species conservation.  

The article "Border security fencing and wildlife: the end of the transboundary paradigm in Eurasia? [Link 45]" by Linnell, J.D.C., Trouwborst, A., Boitani, L., Kaczensky, P., Huber, D., Reljic, S., Kusak, J., Majic, A., Skrbinsek, T., Potocnik, H., Hayward, M.W., Milner-Gulland, E.J., Buuveibaatar, B., Olson, K.A., Badamjav, L., Bischof, R., Zuther, S. & Breitenmoser, U.  was published in the journal PLoS Biology.

(Web editor, 22.6.2016)

 

 

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