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FIWI Annual Report 2018

You can download the FIWI annual report for the year 2018 by clicking on the picture. (Report in German only)
Cover photo of the FIWI annual report 2018








Multidrug-resistant bacteria: urban brown rats as possible source

Brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) are particularly relevant for the spread and evolution of multidrug-resistant bacteria. (Photo © Amélie Desvars-Larrive)
Rat in a trap 1

The emergence of multidrug-resistant pathogens is becoming an ever-increasing global concern for human and animal health. A research team has now found that around one in seven rats (14.5%) captured in the Vienna city centre between 2016 and 2017 were carrying multidrug-resistant enterobacteria, E. coli being the main representative of this group. The prevalence of multidrug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae in rats in Vienna is thus comparable to that observed in previous studies in other major cities such as Berlin (13.6%) and Hong Kong (13.9%). Additionally, more than half of the rats in Vienna (59.7%) were found to be carriers of multidrug-resistant staphylococci.

The work is the result of an international cooperation between Vetmeduni Vienna (Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Institute of Microbiology), the Austrian Agency for Food Safety (AGES), the Free University of Berlin and the Leibniz Institute for Photonic Technologies. Despite their bad reputation, rats are very useful for science. These rodents are common in urban areas and come into contact with all types of wastewater. Scientists take advantage of this fact to gather information about possible antibiotic resistance in rats in the urban environment.

The article "Urban brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) as possible source of multidrug-resistant Enterobacteriaceae and meticillin-resistant Staphylococcus spp., Vienna, Austria, 2016 and 2017 2“ by Amélie Desvars-Larrive, Werner Ruppitsch, Sarah Lepuschitz, Michael P Szostak, Joachim Spergser, Andrea T. Feßler, Stefan Schwarz, Stefan Monecke, Ralf Ehricht, Chris Walzer and Igor Loncaric was published in Eurosurveillance.

More information 3

(Web editor, 9 September 2019)


The social networks of young wildboars

Young female wild boards in the research enclosure (Photo C. Bieber)
3 wild boar females in an enclosure 4

Wild boar populations are growing rapidly across Europe. Although details of population dynamics and reproductive potential of this species are known, our knowledge of the social structure and the potential impact of hunting on this structure is poorly understood. How does it work, for example, when targeted old animals are shot from a group and only young animals are left?

The aim of this study was therefore to investigate how the social structure of juvenile wild boar, in the absence of old animals, develops. For this purpose, a team at FIWI investigated the grouping behavior of one-year-old boar female in two outdoor enclosures.

Through intensive behavioral observations from March to August in the following year and subsequent evaluation by a social network analysis (SNA), a research group led by Claudia Bieber could gain new insights into the social structure of annual wild boar females. They observed that the females formed stable groups during the study period, although there were no older females, i. lead animals, in the group. Interestingly, individuals in a larger enclosure with more wild boars also formed more groups - the group size remained relatively the same. It did not matter if the animals were related as long as the initial aggression was overcome (neighborhood in habituated enclosures). In addition, wild boar females show different connectivity within the social network of a population.

More info 5 

Original article 6

(Web editor, 10 July 2019)


Who´s whistling in the Alps?

An Alpine marmot guarding the burrow (Photo Maximilian Narr, via Wikimedia Commons)
Photo of a marmot in front ot is burrow 7

When you are out for a hike in higher alpine locations in the summer, it can happen that someone whistles at you.  There is a good chance it will be a marmot, because right now they are frolicking on the pastures and eating as much as they can to build up winter fat.  When they perceive danger, such as a golden eagle, they warn their conspecifics with a piercing whistle. It has been found that they even use different signals to warn their peers of different predators.

As Walter Arnold from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology knows from years of research, the marmots prefer certain plants, such as the Alpine clover, Alpine motherwort or a type of labweed. This is mainly because these plants provide them with essential fatty acids, especially omega-6 fatty acids, and the more they absorb, the better they can lower their body temperature later in hibernation. That in turn is important to save energy.

From the end of September, the marmots disappear into their burrows and close them from the inside. Then, to keep warm, they huddle close together and live off their fat stores. They lower their metabolism and, with occasional awakening from the deep torpor, they manage to survive the Alpine winter without food intake - for up to seven months.

An interesting article about the Alpine marmot has, with scientific advice from Walter Arnold, just appeared in the magazine Landlust  8(Landlust Ausgabe Juli/August 2019).

Landlust Article "Mit Pfiff" 9 (in German)

(Web editor, 3 July 2019)


Unusual insights: the Gobi Desert through the eyes of a khulan

Wild ass (Khulan) in the Gobi desert, Photo © P. Kaczensky
Photo of a herd of wild ass in the Gobi desert 10
Here´s looking at you, kid. (Photo taken by Camera collar)
Photo of a wild ass head taken with a camera collar 11

For the effective conservation of endangered species, it is important to know as much as possible about their habitat requirements and life history. An international research team led by Vetmeduni Vienna therefore equipped an Asiatic wild ass – a so-called khulan – in the Gobi desert with a new kind of satellite collar which included a camera. The recently published results of the research project are promising: in addition to a significant gain in knowledge for science and wildlife conservation, the additional information gained from the images also offers the general public exciting new insights into the way of life of a far ranging species in a very remote and challenging environment.

Although GPS satellite telemetry already makes it possible to track animals in near-real time such remotely collected data also harbours the risk of missing important abiotic or biotic environmental variables or life history events. This is of particular importance for animals with large-scale nomadic movements, as is the case with khulan.  The authors of the study have used a small subset of the images from the camera collar to supplement the publication with a popular version in StoryMap-format 12.

The article "Through the eye of a Gobi khulan – Application of camera collars for ecological research of far-ranging species in remote and highly variable ecosystems 13“ by Petra Kaczensky, Sanchir Khaliun, John Payne, Bazartseren Boldgiv, Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar and Chris Walzer was published in PLOS ONE.

More information 14

(Web editor, 19 June 2018)


Important evolutionary step discovered: body heat without shivering

Mammals maintain an optimal body temperature with brown adipose tissue even in cold environments without muscle tremors(Photo © Julia Nowack)
wild boar mother with piglets in an enclosure 15

Endothermy, the ability to regulate body temperature independent of ambient temperature, was an important step in the evolution of many mammals and birds. In addition to shivering, so-called brown adipose tissue plays a key role in heat production. However, only around 20% of endothermic birds and mammals actually possess this specialised organ. A group of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna has now managed for the first time to demonstrate that a third mechanism deep within the muscle tissue is sufficient to help newborn mammals lacking brown adipose tissue to survive without shivering despite cold ambient temperatures. According to the researchers, this mechanism could have played an important role in the evolution of many vertebrate species.

The article "Muscle nonshivering thermogenesis in a feral mammal 16“ by Julia Nowack,Sebastian G. Vetter, Gabrielle Stalder, Johanna Painer, Maria Kral, Steve Smith, Minh Hien Le, Perica Jurcevic,Claudia Bieber, Walter Arnold, and Thomas Ruf was published in Scientific Reports.

More info 17

(Web editor, 17 June 2019)


Reading the developmental history of red deer from bones

Red deer in the research enclosure (Photo C. Beiglböck)
Two red deer stags on a green meadow

Ontogeny is the developmental history of an organism within its own lifetime.  The study of skeletochronology (counting the concentric growth rings found in a cross section of bone) and bone tissue as a record of information on ontogenetic stages and events is widely used for improving the knowledge about life histories of extinct and extant vertebrates. Compared with dinosaurs and extant reptiles, mammalian bone histology has received little attention. In a collaboration between the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and the Institut Català de Paleontologia Miquel Crusafont (ICP) in Barcelona, scientists have for the first time calibrated the bone and tooth age with histological bone characteristics and life history stages in ontogenetic rows of red deer.  They relied on known life histories of different aged individuals of captive red deer from Austria to correlate epiphyseal closure, dental eruption pattern, bone growth marks and bone tissue patterns in femora and tibiae, and of wild Spanish red deer.  The data show that females (of both subspecies) attain skeletal maturity earlier than males. At this moment, epiphyseal closure (in femora and tibiae) and dental eruption are complete and long bones start to deposit an external fundamental system. The results also show that the attainment of reproductive maturity in red deer occurs slightly before skeletal maturity.

The article “Calibration of life history traits with epiphyseal closure, dental eruption and bone histology in captive and wild red deer 18” byTeresa Calderón, Daniel DeMiguel, Walter Arnold, Gabrielle Stalder, and Meike Köhler appeared in the Journal of Anatomy.

(Web editor, 1 June 2019)


Brown bears store fat for a good winter

Seasonal lipid adjustments in body fat go hand in hand with hibernation (Photo Jon M. Arnemo)
Hibernating brown bear with half open eyes in the snow

Some people would like to hibernate through the winter - just like brown bears do every year. Hibernating bears lower their body temperature only slightly (2-5 ° C) to a value between 30 ° C and 36 ° C. The role of body fat composition on winter hibernation was now examined for the first time in wild brown bears by an international team led by researchers from the University of Strasbourg and the Vetmeduni Vienna. The two most important findings: unsaturated fatty acids play an important role during hibernation and the composition of the fat stores of large hibernating animals is very similar to that of small hibernators. As shown by Sylvain Giroud and his co-authors, the shift in lipid composition appears to be an evolutionarily conserved hibernation phenomenon that appears independent of body mass and body temperature.

The article “Lipidomics Reveals Seasonal Shifts in a Large-Bodied Hibernator, the Brown Bear 19” by Sylvain Giroud, Isabelle Chery, Fabrice Bertile, Justine Bertrand-Michel, Georg Tascher, Guillemette Gauquelin Cook, Jon M. Arnemo, Jon E. Swenson , Navinder J. Singh, Etienne Lefai, Alina L. Evans, Chantal Simon and Stéphane Blanc was published in Frontiers in Physiology.

More info 20

(Web editor, 16 May 2018)


When hares have a stomach ache

European brown hare (Lepus europaeus) Photo ©Tatiana/AdobeStock
European hare in a flower meadow

More and more often diseases of the digestive tract are detected in European hares. The reason is often changes in the intestinal microorganisms, the so-called microbiome. Little was known about the reasons for this. A recently published study led by Gabrielle Stalder from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at Vetmeduni Vienna shows for the first time that habitat-related environmental factors could be responsible for the changes in the composition of intestinal bacteria. The geographical location and thus potentially associated environmental factors have a significantly greater influence on the composition of the microbiota than host factors. From the results of the study, new hypotheses can be deduced, which explain some of the factors that affect the population fluctuations of European brown hares. This research at the interface of gut health and land use in relation to European hares and potentially other species affected by rapid changes or intensive use of their habitat is important for understanding the impact of environmental factors on the gut microbiome and thus on the health of field hares. The study also involved the Institute for Food Safety, Food Technology and Public Health.

The articlel „Gut microbiota of the european Brown Hare (Lepus europaeus)“  21by G. L. Stalder, B. Pinior, B. Zwirzitz, I. Loncaric, D. Jakupović, S. G. Vetter, S. Smith, A. Posautz, F. Hoelzl, M. Wagner, D. Hoffmann, A. Kübber-Heiss and E. Mann was published in Scientific Reports.


Mehr Information 22

(Web editor, 25 April 2019)



News archive... 23



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