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Characterization of the immunogenome in domestic, wild and extinct old world camelids - download details.


FIWI Annual Report 2016

The FIWI annual report for 2016 (in German only) can be downloaded by klicking on the picture.
Cover Foto of the FIWI Annual Report 2016




Vetmeduni Vienna Open House 2017 on 10 June

Many of our scientists and students were available for visitors to ask questions about wildlife or research projects. (Photo K. Svadlenak/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of the Dept. 5 info stands at the Open House 2017 [Link 1]

Visitors were able to look behind the scenes at the Vetmeduni Vienna on the open house day. The two research institutes of the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution presented a number of exciting wildlife-related topics, looking at displays and trying out various fund tasks at our information booths.   They could also go on a "speed date" with our researchers at the Science Café [Link 2] to find out about dromedaries and camels, colours in the animal kingdom, or "goblins of the night". In addition, young visitors could try their hands at drawing and making animal crafts with our creative team.

The whole programme  [Link 3]is available online.

(Web editor, 12 June 2017)


Obituary for Senator h.c. SC i.R. Wilhelm Grimburg

Senator h.c. SC i.R. Wilhelm Grimburg
Portrait photo of Dr. Grimburg

On 27 May 2017 Section Chief  i.R. Dr. Wilhelm Grimburg passed away at the age of 95.  The Vetmeduni Vienna remembers its honorary senator with great fondness.  His extraordinary engagement for wildlife research contributed considerably to the foundation of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, which is today one of the university´s foremost research institutes.  Without him during his active time as head of research of the former Ministry for science and research our institute would not exist. 

We honour his memory with gratitude.




Don't move: To ensure a constant food supply edible dormice rather give up their favourite food

The seeds of beech trees are rich of energy, but not available every year. The edible dormouse thus avoids areas with high density of these trees. Edible dormice choose areas with more conifers and just a few beech trees to have a consistent food resource. (Photo: Jessica Cornils/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of edible dormice with pups in nest box [Link 4]

Rodents such as the edible dormouse feed preferably on high-energy seeds. They deliver the energy needed for reproduction and help juvenile animals put on the necessary fat reserves before their first hibernation season. But this important food source is not available every year. Beech trees save energy by producing seeds only in certain years and on a large scale, these years are called mast years. Edible dormice adapt to this cycle with a pragmatic choice of territory. A long-term study by researchers from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna has now shown for the first time that edible dormice avoid areas with a high beech density. Instead, they prefer areas with a balanced mix of conifers and beech trees. The alternative food source allows the rodents to survive non-mast years without having to move to a new territory. However, they still  find enough beech seeds to reproduce and feed their offspring during mast years.

The article   „Edible dormice (Glis glis) avoid areas with a high density of their preferred food plant – the European beech“ [Link 5] by Jessica S. Cornils, Franz Hölzl, Birgit Rotter, Claudia Bieber and Thomas Ruf appeared in the journal Frontiers in Zoology.

More info [Link 6]

(Web editor, 24 May 2017)


Smelly feet as a signaling device

Graphical abstract. The study demonstrates that brown bears do have pedal glands that produce specific and sexually dimorphic scent, and display behavioural patterns related to pedal marking. (Drawings by Katarzyna Chrząścik for Scientific Reports 7, Article Nr. 1052, Fig.4).
Graphic showing the study of bear feet odour [Link 7]

Brown bears in the wild walk long distances and are not territorial. Researchers from Poland, Spain and Austria have now discovered that while walking they spread smell signals via their foot prints. They discovered 26 different chemical components in the sweat glands of the bear paws, 6 of which were found exclusively in males. The bears also use a special gait from time to time, a kind of "marking dance", in which they produce deep footprints. The scientists conclude that the foot odor in the bear world serves for intra-species communication between individuals, the smell being an olfactory and the footprint itself a visual message. Chemical signals are also found in many other mammals. They can provide information about identity, gender, territory, social status, reproductive readiness, or group affiliation. In addition to their soles, bears also use other methods to leave their odor, e.g. tree rubbing. The marking behaviour was frequently observed, particularly during the mating season. It is therefore probable that bear foot odour is also used to give female bears information about the attractiveness of possible partners.

The study was conducted by Agnieszka Sergiel and Nuria Selva from the Polish Academy of Sciences. Johanna Painer from the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution procured the bear samples for histological examination.

The article “Histological, chemical and behavioural evidence of pedal communication in brown bears [Link 8]” by Agnieszka Sergiel, Javier Naves, Piotr Kujawski, Robert Maślak, Ewa Serwa, Damián Ramos, Alberto Fernández-Gil, Eloy Revilla, Tomasz Zwijacz-Kozica, Filip Zięba, Johanna Painer & Nuria Selva was published in Scientific Reports .

You can watch a short video [Link 9] about the study.

(Web editor,  23 May 2017)


ARTEMIS Prize for Science 2017 awarded to Walter Arnold of FIWI

Walter Arnold receiving his prize at the ceremony (Photo Georg Hofer/Der Anblick)
Photo of Walter Arnold at the award ceremony [Link 10]

On May 4, 2017 the ARTEMIS Prize for Science was awarded to Prof. Dr. Walter Arnold of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna. Through proactive communication ARTEMIS tries to bridge the gap between the hunting and non-hunting population in Austria.  The Artemis-Charity Association uses proceeds from donations at the gala to benefit children from underprivileged families or single-parent mothers.  Prizes were awarded for innovation and technology, for science, for promoters of hunting, and for business.

Knowledge about the health, needs and behaviour of wildlife is of great importance to hunters, as it can influence the practice and methods of hunting. Prof. Arnold's more than 30 years of experience in wildlife research and his willingness to share his knowledge in popular science media with hunters and a broad public have contributed significantly to the understanding of wildlife biology. For example, he and his team have found out that the energy supply of wild animals varies enormously throughout the year, which has an impact on wildlife management (e.g., feeding).

Prof. Arnold emphasized during the award ceremony that he was accepting the laudation for the entire research team at FIWI.

Watch the award ceremony on Jagd und
 [Link 11]

(Web editor, 11 May 2017)


Platform StadtWildTiere „goes nuts“ and national for a new Citizen Science Award

Eurasian squirrels are wild inhabitants of all of Austria´s capital cities. Therefore the first national Citizen Science Initiative of the platform StadtWildtiere is dedicated to them. (Photo: S. Marchart/
Reddish Eurasian squirrel [Link 12]
The rodents´ coat colour can vary from reddish to black and mixed shades in between and should be noted when reporting a sighting. (Photo: S. Marchart/
Dark brown Eurasian squirrel [Link 13]

The platform "powered by" biologists of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna is launching a new initiative. While hobby researchers have only been able to report on wild animals in the Viennese urban area, citizens of all nine provincial capitals are now eligible to take part in the new Citizen Science Award project. The focus for the coming two months is the squirrel. In addition to the chance to win prizes for individual hobbyists, there is also a category for school classes, and the capital city with the most squirrel observations will be named the "Squirrel Capital of Austria". From 1 May, therefore, the platform´s slogan is  "Hörnchen zählen - Hauptstadt wählen".In order to observe squirrels, you do not have to equip yourself with a night vision camera or wait for twilight. The rodents are exclusively active during the day. Your chances of spotting a squirrel are particularly good  in small forests, in parks or in cemeteries. Old, clear tree stands that are connected to each other offer ideal habitat. This requirement can also be present in  inner courtyards in  urban areas. The presence of the wild neighbours is sometimes betryed by pine cones that are shed on the ground or nibbled nutshells.  The nests of the small rodents can also be a clew. They are placed in tree tops with small branches, grasses and other nesting material.The start of the new national Citizen Science Award project is the 1st of May.  Registration is possible directly through the website of the platform, where you can also find  the conditions for successful participation and additional information about squirrels. The closing date is 30 June. Of course any other wild animal species in the urban area can still be reported on the platform.

More info (German)
 [Link 14]

(Web editor, 28 April 2017)


Taming the late Quaternary phylogeography of the Eurasiatic wild ass through ancient and modern DNA

Rock paintings of khulan [Link 15]
Asiatic wild asses have long shared the habitat in Europe and Asia with humans, but the relationship between species and subspecies has been controversial. Photos (c) P. Kaczensky (South Gobi, Mongolia)
Photo of 3 khulan [Link 16]

The phylogeny (i.e. evolutionary history of organisms) of the assumed species and subspecies of the “Asiatic wild ass grouphas been debated since the end of the 19th century. Today the distribution range of this once widespread group of Asiatic equids is greatly reduced and highly fragmented. To understand the evolutionary and historical processes that lead to the contemporary geographic genetic representation of the Asiatic wild ass group it is necessary to also include the past. Researchers, including Petra Kaczensky and Chris Walzer of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna, studied the genetic diversity and inter-relationships of both extinct and extant populations over the last 100,000 years. 

The research group examined samples from ancient, historic and extant species and subspecies in the Asiatic wild ass group throughout its range from Western Europe to Southwest and East Asia. Using a short section of a highly variable parts of the mitochondrial genome allowed the inclusion of information from extremely poorly preserved ancient samples. Resulting phylogenetic trees, placed all non-African wild asses into eleven clades (branches of the phylogenetic tree). Results challenge the current taxonomic subdivision into different species as they place the extinct European wild ass, E. hydruntinus, as well as the kiang, E. kiang, within the Asiatic wild ass, Equus hemionus, group of subspecies (Dziggetai, Khur, Onager, Kulan, and the Syrian Hemippus).

The phylogeographic organization of clades resulting from these efforts can be used not only to improve future taxonomic determination of a poorly characterized group of equids, but also to identify historic ranges, interbreeding events between various populations, and the impact of ancient climatic changes. In addition, appropriately placing relict populations into a broader phylogeographic and genetic context can better inform ongoing conservation strategies.

The article “Taming the late Quaternary phylogeography of the Eurasiatic wild ass through ancient and modern DNA [Link 17]” is published in the journal PLOS ONE.

(Web editor, 26 April 2017)


A surprising difference in the prevalence of amyloid disease in two wild hare populations

European brown hare (Lepus europaeus), Photo by Jean-Jacques Boujot -CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons
Photo of a European brown hare [Link 18]

Amyloidosis is a group of diseases in which abnormal proteins, known as amyloid fibrils, build up in tissue due to protein misfolding.    Amyloid protein can collect in many parts of human and animal bodies and affect the functioning of different organs.  Systemic amyloidosis has not often been described in either captive or free-ranging European brown hares.  A team of wildlife pathologists led by Annika Posautz from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) of the Vetmeduni Vienna examined a total of 594 hares from different populations in Lower Austria and northern Germany (on the island of Pellworm), as well as captive-bred hares raised at FIWI.  They performed a pathohistology of all organs and an immunohistochemistry.  They found that 22% of the Lower Austrian population, only 5.4% of the Pellworm population, and none of the captive bred hares showed varying degrees of amyloid deposition.  Liver, spleen, kidneys and in some animals the small intestine were affected.  None of the affected animals had shown any clinical signs of disease prior to death.  The overall health status of the two free-ranging hare populations did not differ significantly enough to explain the difference in amyloid prevalence between them.  Further investigations are needed to show whether different environmental conditions, such as climate, habitat, and proximity to livestock and wild birds may influence the development of the disease.

The article “Different population – different prevalence or, what is going on in the European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) [Link 19]” by Annika Posautz, Anna Kübber-Heiss (FIWI) & Per Westermark (Department of Immunology, Genetics and Pathology, Uppsala University) were published in the journal Amyloid.

(Web editor, 25 April 2017)


Raccoon dog represents a more acute risk than raccoon as vector for transmission of local parasites

Compared to the racoon, the racoon dogs are more closely related to foxes and thus the more emerging threat as an additional vector. (Photo: Tanja Duscher/Vetmeduni Vienna)
Photo of a raccoon dog [Link 20]

The raccoon and the raccoon dog are two non-indigenous animal species that have become established in Europe in the past decades. Their increasing abundance has not only made them the most common carnivore species in some countries, but has also made them of interest to parasitologists as potential hosts for diseases. A team of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna has now analysed samples from both species in Austria. The raccoon dog, which is more closely related to the fox, was shown to serve as an additional host for local parasites. Like the fox, it represents a risk as a host of zoonotic parasites, such as the fox tapeworm or trichina worms, that are also of relevance for humans. The raccoons sampled, as they mainly originated from fur farms, were still largely pathogen-free. The article "The raccoon dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides) and the raccoon (Procyon lotor)—their role and impact of maintaining and transmitting zoonotic diseases in Austria, Central Europe [Link 21]" by researchers at the Institute of Parasitology, the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, and at AGES was published in the journal Parasitology Research. 

More info [Link 22] 

(Web editor,  06 April 2017)


ALPBIONET2030 – Protection for the Alpine Space

The project ALPBIONET2030 will establish and support strategies for future conservation of alpine ecosystems and biodiversity. (Photo: K. Svadlenak-Gomez)
Photo of the Lech river near Weissenbach [Link 23]

Protected areas and connected natural axes - landscapes that wildlife can cross - form the basis of an Alpine “ecological network” for the protection of habitat and biodiversity. Such regional nature networks are now receiving additional support through the ALPBIONET 2030 project, which is funded by the European Union´s Alpine Space Programme. In various work packages, conditions for the implementation of ecological connectivity measures and national biodiversity strategies throughout the Alpine region will be improved. The Conservation Medicine Unit of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Vetmeduni Vienna, is responsible for the management of a work package for the analysis and improvement of Alpine wildlife management strategies, as well as the development of standardized forensic methods, which will be helpful for combating wildlife crime.

More info in a news article of the Vetmeduni [Link 24]

Internal project website [Link 25]

(Web editor, 14 March 2017)


New FWF project on polyunsaturated fatty acids and seasonal acclimatization

Red deer waiting at the entrance of the automatic feeding station (Photo M. Habe)
Photo of a red deer waiting at the feeding station [Link 26]

A new project financed by the Austrian Science Fund FWF was recently launched on the topic of "Polyunsaturated fatty acids and seasonal acclimatization [Link 27]".   Profound changes of metabolic rate and body temperature seem to be ubiquitous among birds and mammals living in seasonal environments, as is associated membrane remodelling. However, specific effects of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in phospholipids suggest trade-offs determining seasonal changes of the fatty acid composition of membranes that are largely independent of direct dietary intake.   The current project investigates in detail effects of PUFA on seasonal acclimatization in red deer. 

The project´s principal investigator is Univ.Prof. Dr. Walter Arnold, Head of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology. 

(Web editor, 10 February 2017)


New FFG project on thermoregulation in wildboar is expected to bring important insights for wildlife management under climate change

Wild boar mother suckling her piglets (Photo Sebastian Vetter)
Photo of a female wild boar with piglets [Link 28]

A new research project financed by the Austrian Research Promotion Agency (FFG) is intended to improve understanding of the population dynamics of wild boars in times of climate change. The project "Wildlife Management in Climate Change: Studies on Thermoregulation in Wild Boars [Link 29]" examines how the body temperature of wild boars changes throughout the annual cycle. It also analyzes how extreme heat periods or cold spells affect body temperature. The effect of the energy budget on survival and reproduction will also be recorded. At the same time, the researchers are observing behavioral changes and activity patterns of wild boars under various climatic conditions. The long-term objective is to use the results obtained from this basic research as a basis for the development of new wildlife management strategies.

The project is led by Dr. Claudia Bieber from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology.

(Web editor, 9 Feburary 2017)



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Every Wednesday during the academic semester the "Seminar at Wilhelminenberg" takes place at our house, a scientific colloquium where leading scientists from around the world present their latest research.  

Seminar programme [Link 38]


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