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VetmedTalk „Grüne Lungen“ (Green lungs). People and animals in forest ecosystems

 (Talk in German)

VetmedTalk: Heute verstehen. Morgen verändern.


12 December 2022 | 5-6 p.m. | Online 

Sometimes you can't see the forest for the trees: Countless details block the view of the big picture. With this VetmedTalk, the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, together with the experts from the Donauauen National Park and the Austrian Federal Forests, wants to offer a comprehensive overview of the special features of the forest habitat. For a healthy future for animals and humans, we need a healthy forest.

Austria is a densely wooded country: 3.5 billion trees cover almost 50 percent of the national area and form a diverse habitat for a wide variety of animals. Deer and rabbits, foxes and hedgehogs, but also many birds, insects, amphibians and reptiles make the forests a unique ecosystem. The VetmedTalk "Green Lungs" presents exciting research projects from veterinary medicine and examines how the health of animals and the health of humans are related through the forest habitat.

Forests are essential for us humans. They produce oxygen for our air, wood for our furniture, store our drinking water, prevent floods and protect against mudslides and avalanches. We use the "green lungs" in our free time as a place to relax, and as a huge carbon store, they are also an important instrument in climate protection. At the same time, the forest is a habitat for countless animal species, flora and fauna in the forest are essential for a healthy environment. Nevertheless, we humans have a massive impact on the life of these forest ecosystems through climate change and intensive forest use.

How can humans and animals coexist and thrive in the forest? And what can veterinary medicine contribute to climate protection and biodiversity?

In 2022, the Vetmeduni will focus on communication on "Life on land", UN Sustainable Development Goal No. 15, with a special habitat focus each quarter. It started with air, followed by fresh water and meadows , and the forest ecosystem now concludes the series. The last VetmedTalk of this year is about the status quo of our forest dwellers and how we can protect their habitat. Science communicator Bernhard Weingartner and his guests will answer questions from the online audience.


  • Claudia Bieber, Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, Vetmeduni
  • Edith Klauser, Nationalpark Donauauen
  • Alexandra Wieshaider, Austrian Federal Forests
  • Richard Zink, Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology, Vetmeduni


  • Bernhard Weingartner, Science communicator and initiator of the Science Slam Austria


Live online stream at



Poster prize for Hanna Rauch - Science Day 2022

Veterinarian Hanna Rauch, who is doing her doctoral thesis in the Wild and Zoo Animal Medicine working group of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, won second prize in the poster competition at the Vetmeduni Science Day 2022 with the poster "CYSTOCENTESIS: An essential tool for felid standard health checks".

Accurately diagnosing chronic kidney disease (CKD) in felines requires a combination of serum and urine analysis. However, diagnostic sampling under sterile conditions for urinalysis is rarely performed in domestic big cats. Hanna Rauch and her colleagues took sterile urine samples using an ultrasound-assisted collection method and analyzed them in 47 non-domesticated felids. They found anomalies in 60% of the samples. The high prevalence of abnormal findings underscores the importance of including urinalysis in the general health assessment of non-domestic felines.

In her doctoral thesis, Hanna Rauch is researching kidney diseases in big cats such as tigers and lions. She is also concerned with improving the safety of anesthetics in a large number of wild animal species.

We warmly congratulate our colleague!


This year´s Rupert-Riedl Preis goes to Dr. Pamela Burger

Pamela Burger of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology has won the Rupert Riedl prize for her research on "Evolutionary history and domestication in Old World camels“.

Rupert Riedl is the founding president of the Club of Vienna. To honor him, the Club of Vienna has been awarding the Vienna Rupert Riedl Prize since 2002. The Club of Vienna awards the prize annually to young scientists whose work is related to evolutionary epistemology. Funding is provided for theoretical and practice-related work in the humanities, social sciences and economics, as well as in the natural and technical sciences.

The Club of Vienna is an association of recognized scientists and experts. Its work focuses on sustainability issues from an economic, social and ecological point of view. In particular, it takes up questions around  economic activity that doesn´t desroy life´s foundations, and that promotes a good coexistence of people and the preservation of peace.

Congratulations to our colleague!


Website of the Club of Vienna


Let´s stick together: huddling helps to save energy

The garden dormouse (Eliomys quercinus) is a slightly smaller relative of the edible dormouse. The highly endangered rodent uses hibernation  - a series of multiple torpor bouts - as an adaptation strategy to the cold, low-food-availability season. The animals use two strategies for this, namely torpor and huddling (snuggling up against one another). According to a recently published study by the Vetmeduni´s Research Institute of Wildlife  Ecology, this behaviour of social thermoregulation pays off: The energy expenditure during the rewarming phase from torpor is significantly reduced by "huddling".

For their study, the scientists investigated the extent to which huddling helps garden dormice save energy. According to study lead author Laura Magaly Charlanne from FIWI at Vetmeduni, the energy-saving hypothesis was confirmed: "Huddling significantly reduces energy consumption during rewarming - the phase with the highest energy requirement during hibernation. Huddling animals reduced heat requirements and weight loss by two-thirds compared to animals waking up alone.”

Garden dormice share the benefits of body contact

On the downside, huddling does not reduce the weight loss of young animals over the entire hibernation period. A possible reason for this is that the animals take turns warming up, which could mitigate the energetic advantages of close body contact. Study last author Sylvain Giroud from FIWI says: "Our study of the dynamics of huddling revealed random-like behavior during hibernation, as awakening from torpor was not always initiated by the same animal. The garden dormice took turns within their group. Also, during the warm-up, the animal with the highest body temperature entered torpor later than the others in the group.”

Collective gains from energy savings

The conclusion of the scientists: The animals share the advantages and disadvantages of huddling and warming up on a collective level without deriving any individual energetic benefit from it. "We hypothesize that the dynamics of social thermoregulation during hibernation offset the individual benefits due to the reduced energy expenditure associated with the energy-intensive process of rewarming from torpor," says Sylvain Giroud.

Social thermoregulation and global change

According to the researchers, studies with varying group compositions are now needed to learn more about the strategy of social thermoregulation and to investigate possible long-term effects after several winters. This is also because due to the rapid global changes and the increasing occurrence of unpredictable weather events, new knowledge is urgently needed about the extent to which flexible energy saving strategies help to survive hibernators their seasonal hibernation.

The article "Sticking Together: Energetic Consequences of Huddling Behavior in Hibernating Juvenile Garden Dormice“ by Laura Magaly Charlanne, Sebastian Vetter, Joy Einwaller, Johanna Painer, Caroline Gilbert, and Sylvain Giroud was published in the special edition “Time Out for Survival: Hibernation and Daily Torpor in Field and Lab Studies” of the journal Physiological and Biochemical Zoology.

Scientific article 


Moving toward the greener side

Livestock grazing often intensifies around herder camps, which can lead to degradation, particularly in arid areas, where vegetation is scarce. In Mongolia, nomadic herders have covered long distances between camps and changed camps regularly for centuries. However, changing socioeconomics, rising livestock numbers, and climatic change have led to growing concerns over rangeland health.

To understand travel mobility and livestock grazing patterns, a team of scientists combined Global Positioning System tracking data of goats, remotely sensing pasture productivity, and ground-based vegetation characteristics in the Great Gobi B Strictly Protected Area, Mongolia. They assessed herder preferences for camp selection, followed 19 livestock herds over 20 months, determined use and nutrient contents of the most dominant plant communities, and estimated plant species richness, vegetation cover, and biomass within different grazing radii around camps.

Biomass availability was key for herder decisions to move camps, but in winter, other factors like shelter from wind were more important. Camps were mainly located in Stipa spp. communities, agreeing with herder preferences for this highly nutritious species, and its dominance around camps. Herders changed their camp locations on average 9 times yearly, with a maximum distance of 70–123 km between summer and winter camps, and an average visitation period of 25–49 d per camp, depending on season. Small livestock spent > 13−17 h daily within a radius of 100 m from camp, and livestock use intensity decreased steeply with distance from camp but was remarkably similar around spring, autumn, and winter camps on the Gobi plains.

However, the researchers found little evidence for a corresponding gradient in plant species richness, biomass, and cover on the Gobi plains. The high mobility of local herders and the overriding impact of precipitation on pasture dynamics contribute to a sustainable vegetation offtake by livestock in the nonequilibrium rangelands of the Dzungarian Gobi.

The article "Moving Toward the Greener Side: Environmental Aspects Guiding Pastoral Mobility and Impacting Vegetation in the Dzungarian Gobi, Mongolia" by Lena M. Michler, Petra Kaczensky, Jane F. Ploechl, Daginnas Batsukh, Sabine A. Baumgartner, Bayarmaa Battogtokh, and Anna C. Treydte was published in Rangeland Ecology & Management.

Scientific article


Are City Rats a Promising Surveillance Tool for Emerging Viruses?

Urban environments represent unique ecosystems where dense human populations may come into contact with wildlife species, some of which are established or potential reservoirs for zoonotic pathogens that cause human diseases. Finding practical ways to monitor the presence and/or abundance of zoonotic pathogens is important to estimate the risk of spillover to humans in cities.

As brown rats (Rattus norvegicus) are ubiquitous in urban habitats, and are hosts of several zoonotic viruses, a team of international scientists led by Chris Walzer conducted longitudinal sampling of brown rats in Vienna, Austria, a large population center in Central Europe. We investigated rat tissues for the presence of several zoonotic viruses, including flaviviruses, hantaviruses, coronaviruses, poxviruses, hepatitis E virus, encephalomyocarditis virus, and influenza A virus.

Although the researchers found no evidence of active infections (all were negative for viral nucleic acids) among 96 rats captured between 2016 and 2018, their study supports the findings of others, suggesting that monitoring urban rats may be an efficient way to estimate the activity of zoonotic viruses in urban environments.

The article "Monitoring Urban Zoonotic Virus Activity: Are City Rats a Promising Surveillance Tool for Emerging Viruses?“ by Jeremy V. Camp, Amélie Desvars-Larrive, Norbert Nowotny, and Chris Walzer was published in "Viruses".

Scientific article


New model explains hibernation according to mathematical rules

Mammals hibernate to temporarily escape adverse environmental conditions. In order to make the study results based on this explanatory approach more comparable, a model has now been developed under the direction of the Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology at the Vetmeduni, which represents the common hibernation hypothesis according to mathematical rules for the first time.

Mammals that hibernate (use torpor) lower their metabolic rate (MR) and body temperature (Tb), sometimes drastically for several weeks, but regularly warm up their bodies, staying in a phase of normal temperature for a short time. The current scientific explanation for this phenomenon is that by leaving hibernation for a short time, accumulated or depleted metabolic products are rebalanced or cell damage that has occurred is repaired. Recent data demonstrating a significant association between hibernation duration and metabolic rate during hibernation strongly support this hypothesis.

In a recently published study, a research team from Vetmeduni with the participation of the University of New England (Armidale, New South Wales, Australia) presents a new mathematical model that simulates such hibernation patterns. The model includes a so-called hourglass process H (hibernation; overwintering), which represents the accumulation or depletion of a crucial enzyme/metabolite, and a threshold process Hthr (hibernation threshold process). The awakening from hibernation thus occurs as soon as the exponentially decreasing process H reaches the threshold of Hthr.

Thomas Ruf, lead author of the study from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, explains the benefits of the new model as follows: "The model we developed can be used to predict several phenomena that can be observed in overwintering mammals, such as the linear relationship between the duration of the reduced metabolic rate (TMR) and duration of reduced temperature (duration of torpor bouts; TBD). In addition, the new model is able to depict the effects of the ambient temperature on the duration of the reduced temperature as well as the modulation of the freezing depth within the hibernation period.”

In summary, according to the scientists, the two-process model of torpor heating cycles - into which circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycle) can also be integrated - is compatible with a number of phenomena that have been observed in overwintering mammals. The researchers now see the most important next task as determining the causes of the hourglass process H. In addition to the analysis of phenotypic differences, Ruf identified the search for the genetic basis as an important new research goal.

The article „Hypothesis and Theory: A Two-Process Model of Torpor-Arousal Regulation in Hibernators“ by Thomas Ruf, Sylvain Giroud, and Fritz Geiser was published in „Frontiers in Physiology“.

Scientific article