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First discovery of a hibernating primate outside Madagascar

Up to now, three species of lemurs on Madagascar were the only primates known to hibernate. Now a team at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the Vetmeduni Vienna, collaborating with colleagues from the Vietnamese Endangered Primate Rescue Center, has discovered another primate that hibernates: the pygmy slow loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus).

The researchers found out that the examined slow lorises repeatedly showed hibernation episodes lasting up to 63 hours between December and February. The underlying reason is likely an endogenous annual clock, which induces hibernation at a time of the year when food abundance is decreasing. However, it is also the decreasing ambient temperature that triggers hibernation. During the cold season food is sparse. Hibernation then helps to save energy.

The article „Hibernation in the pygmy slow loris (Nycticebus pygmaeus): multiday torpor in primates is not restricted to Madagascar” by Thomas Ruf, Ulrike Streicher, Gabrielle L. Stalder, Tilo Nadler and Chris Walzer was published in Scientific Reports of the Nature Publishing Group.

More info

(Web editor,  3 December 2015)

Bear news - the first project bulleting of LIFE DINALP BEAR

The Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology is one of 9 regional project partners in the EU Project LIFE DINALP BEAR.  Together with partners in other countries in the regien our goal is to further scientific knowledge on the slowly progressing spread of Slovenian brown bear populations, partly also into Souther Austria.  The first project bulletin "LIFE with bears"  is now available  for download on the  official project website.  One of the artciles describes the current situation of bears in Carinthia (p.15).

Recently a label of "bear friendly" products was created.  Products are now available to purchase - maybe an idea for one or the other small Christmas present?


(Web editor, 20 November 2015)


Prof. Dr. Walter Arnold nominated as "Austrian of the year" in the area of research

The Austrian daily paper Die Presse asks its readers every year to vote on the "Austrian of the year".  Men and women are nominated in several categories, if they have achieved something important for Austria in their area.  This year our head, Univ. Prof. Dr. Walter Arnold, was nominated in the area of research. 

He was voted among the top 3 by the Presse readership.  Although in the end the prize in the area of research went to the waste researcher Marion Huber-Humer (BOKU), the nomination itself is an honour for the Instiute and for   Prof. Arnold.

(Web-Redaktion am 27.10.2015)

Theresa Walter wins 3rd place at the Vetmeduni Science Slam

The first ever Science Slam of the Vetmeduni Vienna took place on 15 October.  Researchers of the university made short and lively presentations, competing for the audience´s favour.  After a clicker-vote the winners were determined and awarded a prize by the rector´s office. 

Theresa Walter of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology presented her urban fox project.  She is researching where and when red foxes are seen in Vienna.  She shares third place with two other researchers who won the same number of click-votes.  Congratulations to our young scientist!

More info (in German)

(Web editor, 16 October 2015)

Lazing away the summer - Some dormice start their hibernation early

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” 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.

More info

(Web editor, 8 September 2015)

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

Vienna’s inhabitants have reported about 300 foxes in the urban area to the internet platform 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

(Web editor, 3 September 2015)


The European Hare is a picky eater

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” 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.

More info

(Web editor, 1 September 2015)

Wild boars are gaining ground – climate change boosts population growth

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" by Sebastian G. Vetter, Thomas Ruf, Claudia Bieber, and Walter Arnold was published in the Journal Plos One.

More info

(Web editor, 12 August 2015)

The trouble with hares

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” was published online in the journal Acta Veterinaria Scandinavica on 4 August 2015.

(Web editor, 6 August 2015)

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

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” 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.

More info

(Web editor, 4 August 2015)

Ecophysiology of Omega Fatty Acids: A Lid for Every Jar

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” byWalter Arnold, Sylvain Giroud, Teresa Valencak, and Thomas Ruf appeared in May 2015 in the jounral Physiology.

More info

(Web editor, 21 July 2015)

The rhythm cells go by – Daily changes in human cells

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” by Thomas Ruf and Walter Arnold was published in the Journal of Biological Rhythms.

More info

(Web editor, 20 July 2015)

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

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" by John D. C. Linnell, Petra Kaczensky (FIWI), Ulrich Wotschikowsky, Nicolas Lescureux und Luigi Boitani was published in the journal Conservation Biology erschienen.

(Web editor, 2 June 2015)

New web platform for wildlife sightings in Vienna launched

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 and can be viewed online on a map.

More info (in German)

Link to the website StadtWildTiere

(Web editor, 29 May 2015)

Exhibition "Consequential Choices - Versions of Atlas Making"

The exhibition "Consequential Choices - Versions of Atlas Making" 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

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

Summary of the results by IIASA

(Web editor, 25 May 2015)

The latest FIWI annual report 2014 has arrived

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

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

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 en infoservice presseinformation press-releases-2015 the-hairy-past-tail-hair-as-an-indicator-of-behaviour-and-ecology-in-horses>More info

(Web editor, 7 May 2015)

The best LIFE Nature projects 2014

The "Best of the Best" LIFE-Project are those judged as most inspiring.  They are meticulously selected by environmental experts according to rigorous criteria. This year's Best of the Best winners have just been announced. Among them is the LIFE Nature Projekt for the conservation of the Hungarian meadow viper (Vipera ursinii rakosiensis), to which FIWI staff Petra Kaczensky, Chris Walzer, and Gerhard Fluch contributed.  Hungarian meadow viper ist listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red List of Endangered Species.  The project increased the area of the vipers’ favoured grassland habitat by more than 400 ha and reintroduced several hundred vipers bred in captivity.    Currently the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology is partner in a new LIFE Nature project on Population level management and conservation of brown bears in the northern Dinaric Mountains and the Alps.

(Web editor, 29 April 2015)

Vetmeduni Success prize goes to FIWI researcher

Veterinary scientist Nikolaus Huber is one of three prize winners of this year´s Vetmeduni Success Prize and will receive a grant of 15.000 Euro for his dissertation.  Nikolaus Huber is writing his dissertation entitled "Waking up to fight" at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology.  He is examining how infections affect the sleep-wake cycle of garden dormice during hibernation.  The research is supervised by colleagues Thomas Ruf from FIWI and Armin Saalmüller from the Institute of Immunology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.

(Web editor, 30 March 2015)

Assistant professorship for our wildlife researcher

In December 2014 Teresa Valencak was selected for one of four qualifying positions at the Vetmeduni Vienna. The PhD zoologist received her teaching authorization for wildlife biologiy early last year. She teaches and researches at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology.  Since 2013 the Vetmeduni has instituted so-called qualifying positions aimed at promoting young scientists and preparing them for a university career.  These positions enable young researchers to gain leadership experience in their field in preparation for eventually becoming a full professor.  At FIWI Teresa Valencak leads the working group for experimental biology.

(Web editor, 16 March 2015)

Saker falcons readily accept nest boxes on power poles

BirdLife, the Austrian Power Grid AG (APG) and the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna have been working on a conservation project for the Saker falcon for several years.  One project activity involves mounting nest boxes on electricity poles in Austria´s provinces of Burgenland and Lower Austria.  These nesting places appear to be quite popular.  2014 was a new record year:  31 Saker falcon pairs raised 47 offspring, and the new breeding season 2015 has already begun.  This makes excellent news: this endangered bird species is successfully making its home in Austria again.

More info (Press release in German)

Video on the project (in German)

(Web editor, 10 March 2015)

Fast food for brown bears

The availability and quality of food have an important influence on the behaviour and population dynamics of wildlife.  In Slovenia, like in many European countries brown bears receive supplemental food to facilitate hunting or to ward off bear damages.  This management measure is expensive and controversial, as its effect on bears is not well studied.  Petra Kaczensky from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology/Vetmeduni Vienna and colleagues from the Biotechnical Institute and the Forestry Institute of the University of Ljubljana wanted to find out what role supplemental feeding plays in the bears´energy budget and in the occurrence of bear damages.  They analysed more than 700 scat samples from three different regions in Slovenia.  They found a high proportion of supplemental food in the bears´diet.  The authors warn, however, that undifferentiated feeding of bears may not necessarily lead to a reduction in conflicts.  The article "Fast food bears: brown bear diet in a human-dominated landscape with intensive supplemental feeding"  ist published in the January 2015 edition of the journal Wildlife Biology.

More info

(Web editor, 8 January 2015)