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News archive 2016

Citizen Science Awards 2016 for badger spotting

On 13 December 2016 the Citizen Science Awards 2016 were presented with a festive award ceremony at the great banquet hall of the University of Vienna.  The projekt StadtWildTiere (urban wildlife) was represented with its "badger spotting" initiative (DachsSpurenSuche) and honoured the most dedicated badger spotters.  Citizen science reports of wildlife sightings are combined with other scientific methods, such as camera traps and transect mapping to enable the project to collect data and analsye the presence and spread of mammals in the urban area of Vienna.  A special research focus in 2016 and 2017 is on the badger. 

We thank all citizen science wildlife spotters who have sent in their sighting reports.  Many thanks also to the Austrian Agency for International Cooperation in Education and Research OEAD with the Centre for Citizen Science, who made our participation at the Citizen Science Award possible.

More info (in German)

(Web editor, 19 November 2016)

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

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" by Martina Burnik Šturm, Oyunsaikhan Ganbaatar, Christian C. Voigt, and Petra Kaczensky was published in the Journal of Applied Ecology.

More info

(Web editor, 30 November 2016)

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

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" 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

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 and the Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology 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)" 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

(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

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 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 by B. Buuveibaatar, S. Strindberg, P. Kaczensky, J. Payne, B. Chimeddorj, G. Naranbaatar, S. Amarsaikhan, B. Dashnyam, T. Munkhzul, T. Purevsuren, D.A. Hosack and T.K. Fuller 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

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)

(Web editor, 21 October 2016)

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

A new book 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.

More info

(Web editor, 19 October 2016)

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

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

(Web editor, 14 October 2016)

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

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 of the project between 27 May 2015 and 9. February 2016

The article „Where pathways cross: citizen science project StadtWildTiere in Vienna, Austria" 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

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“ by Franz Hölzl, Jessica S. Cornils, Steve Smith, Yoshan Moodley and Thomas Ruf was published in the Journal of Experimental Biology.

More info

(Web editor, 2 September 2016)

Invitation to the Citizen Science Award Ceremony

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" of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology is also taking part in the event.  To attend the ceremony registration is required by 6 December 2016.

(Web editor, 20 October 2016)

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

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?" 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)

Antibiotic resistance in wildlife

Infections with antibiotic-resistent bacteria have become an increasing problem in medical treatment.  But humans are not the only ones affected.  Researchers at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, together with colleagues from the Working Group for Clinical Microbiology and Animal Hygiene, have examined European mouflons for the presence of resistant bacteria. They found bacteria from the family Enterobacteriaceae in one of the examined animals.  Since the examined mouflons were free-ranging specimens and had not been treated with antibiotics, it is likely that the animal acquired the bacteria from its natural environment, where human often pass through as well.  Before this study a team around Dr. Chris Walzer had found out that migratory rooks and resident crows also carry these bacteria.  They have also been found in several other species of wildlife.  

The article "Characterization of ESBL- and AmpC-Producing and Fluoroquinolone-Resistant Enterobacteriaceae Isolated from Mouflons (Ovis orientalis musimon) in Austria and Germany" by Igor Loncaric , Christoph Beiglböck, Andrea T. Feßler, Annika Posautz, Renate Rosengarten, Chris Walzer, Ralf Ehricht, Stefan Monecke, Stefan Schwarz, Joachim Spergser und Anna Kübber-Heiss was published in May 2016 in the international journal PLOS One.

(Web editor, 10 June 2016)

StadtWildTiere at Citizen Science Day at Vienna´s Natural History Museum

The first Citizen Science Day at the Natural History Museum will present current citizen science activities in Austria, among others project "StadtwildTiere".  Apart from interesting lectures people can get to know projects and learn about opportunities to participate in research activities at eight interactive stations. 

An event for schools and interested individuals who want to participate in research projects. 

Date: 11 October 2016, 12:30-2:30 p.m.

Place: Naturhistorisches Museum Wien, Maria Theresienplatz, 1010 Wien


Lectures for children at KinderuniVetmed

This year the Vetmeduni Vienna will again be hosting several events of the "university for children" Kinderuni.

From 21 to 22 July 2016 the broad spectrum of topics of the Vetmeduni Vienna will be explained to children (ages 7-12) in various lectures and give them the possibility to get acquainted with a university environment.  On 21 July biologist Theresa Walter will be talking about Ural owls and about wildlife in Vienna.

Children can sign up at the website of the Kindebüro Universität Wien.  

Weblink to all KinderuniVetmed events

(Web editor, 10 June 2016)

Biodiversity day in Lainzer Tiergarten

On 11 June this year´s biodiversity day (Tag der Artenvielfalt 2016) will be celebrated in Lainzer Tiergarten, Vienna.  The Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology will be present with an information booth on the re-introduction of Ural owls in Austrian forests.  In addition there are of course many fascinating regional animal- and plant species to observe.  Visitors may ask experts questions about animals and plants, try to determine a species, or participate in guided expert excursions. 

More info on the project

Information on the programme

(Web editor, 6 June 2016)

Shy wild boars are sometimes better mothers

The personality of wild boar mothers can affect the wellbeing of their young, as a team from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the Vienna University of Veterinary Medicine has found out. In a multi-year study of reproductive strategies of wild boars, Sebastian Vetter and fellow researchers investigated whether and under what circumstances the personality of the wild boars affected the number of offspring reared. The study revealed that, when sufficient food is available, shy wild boar mothers raise more young than risk-taking, aggressive females. When the availability of food (e.g. acorns) becomes scarce, however, there is no longer an advantage for shy females. 

The article „Shy is sometimes better: personality and juvenile body mass affect adult reproductive success in wild boars, Sus scrofa” by Sebastian G. Vetter, Constanze Brandstätter, Marie Macheiner, Franz Suchentrunk, Hanno Gerritsmann, and Claudia Bieber was published in the journal Animal Behaviour.

More info

(Web editor, 3 June 2016)

New book on wild horses and their relatives

Wild equids such as zebra, wild ass, and wild horses are an endangered, but little known group of equines.  People are more familiar with the domestic horse and donkey than with their wild relatives, about whom astonishingly little is known.  In their new book "Wild Equids - Ecology, Management, and Conservation" the editors and authors Petra Kaczensky of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna and Jason Ransom of the US National Park Service summarize current international research results from various wild equid experts.  The book combines information on behaviour, way of life, habitat use, and genetics with concepts for the protection of these charismatic species.  It also emphasises people´s role and explains important key words, such as differential interpretations of the meaning of "wild".  The book is published in English language by the Johns Hopkins University Press.

More info

(Web editor, 1 June 2016)

Origin of dromedary domestication discovered

Dromedaries have been used for transportation in desert regions for over 3,000 years. Until now, however, it was not known exactly where they were first domesticated or which genetic structure was selected in the process. A team of researchers including Pamela Burger of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna has now managed to answer these questions. With samples taken from nearly 1,100 extant dromedaries and from bone finds of wild, one-humped camels, they identified the southeast coast of the Arabian Peninsula as the origin of the domesticated dromedary. The researchers also showed that the dromedaries, unlike other domesticated animals, have maintained extensive gene flow in the modern population. This high genetic diversity has enabled the dromedary to adapt to difficult environments and climatic change.

The journal PNAS highlighted the article by placing a camel on the cover of its June 14, 2016 issue.

The scientific article “Ancient and modern DNA reveal dynamics of domestication and cross-continental dispersal of the dromedary” was published in the journal PNAS.

More info

(Web editor, 10 May 2016)

On hidden camera - Ural owls LIVE

This year the team of biologists around Dr. Richard Zink, who has been leading the successful Austrian Ural owl re-introduction project for a number of years, has thought up something special: via a hidden camera anyone can gain  insights into life in the nesting box  of Ural owl parents  "Frieda" and "Archimedes".  On 14. April the chicks hatched - how exciting!  

In addition, on the project´s facebook page one gets regular updates about events and the project´s progress. 

(Web editor, 3 May 2016)

Britta Mahlert is awarded a prize of the DZG for her Master´s thesis on juvenile garden dormice

On 1 April 2016 the biology student Britta Mahlert was awarded a German Zoological Society (DZG) prize for an outstanding Master´s thesis with a zoological focus.  She wrote on "Difference in torpor use, growth and pre-hibernation fattening between early and late-born juvenile garden dormice (Eliomys quercinus)".  The young biologist undertook her research on dormice at the Research of Wildlife Ecology of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, under the guidance of FIWI scientist Sylvain Giroud.  She was enrolled in the Master Programm "Wildlife Ecology and Wildlife Management" of the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU).  Congratulations!

(Web editor, 4 April 2016)


World Wildlife Day 2016 - FIWI also engages in wildlife protection

The 3rd of March marks the international World Wildlife Day.  This day, which was officially proclaimed by the UN General Assembly coincides with the day of signature of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).  This year´s thematic focus is the fight against wildlife-related crime.  The Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, routinely elaborates new practical concepts for the wildlife conservation and welfare. 

The UN´s World Wildlife Day celebrates the beauty and diversity of wild populations, but it also reminds us of the threats to biodiversity through human actions.  FIWI´s research results from field research, molecular analysis, chemical fine analysis, and even mathematical modeling, are also used for wildlife conservation.  "Research of the needs and behaviour of wildlife in ecological contexts is among our principal tasks," says wildlife expert and Department head Walter Arnold. „Our results contribute to creating a basis for the life of wild animal species in human-dominated landscapes." 

The special focus of World Wildlife Day 2016 on wildlife crime is also relevant for FIWI´s work.  FIWI scientists routinely examine illegally killed wildlife on behalf of authorities, nature conservation and hunting organizations. This pathological diagnosis contributes significantly to solving such cases.

It may also be interesting to note that on 26 February 2016 the European Commission adopted an EU Action Plan to tackle wildlife trafficking within the EU and to strengthen the EU's role in the global fight against these illegal activities. The Action Plan is an ambitious blueprint that mobilises all EU diplomatic, trade and development cooperation tools to crack down on what has become one of the most profitable criminal activities worldwide.

(Web editor, 3 March 2016)

Checking the health of captive rhinos

White rhinoceroses are an endangered species. Their proper captive management in zoos is therefore of great importance. Annika Posautz, Felix Knauer and Chris Walzer from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at Vetmeduni Vienna investigated, among other things, how the housing conditions of southern white rhinoceroses differed in zoos across Europe and which health problems were most common. Through an online survey to various zoos in Europe they gathered information about the sorts of problems encountered in captive animal management. The survey showed that rhinoceroses are often treated with antibiotics and anti-inflammatory drugs without proper diagnosis. Actual diseases may be overlooked as a result. 

The article „Health and health management of captive white rhinoceroses (Ceratotherium simum): results from an online survey“ by Annika Posautz, Felix Knauer, and Christian Walzer was published in the Journal of Zoo and Aquarium Research.

More info

(Web editor, 25 February 2016)

Claudia Bieber habilitates in animal ecology

The zooligist Dr. Claudia Bieber of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna recently habilitated in her special research area, animal ecology.  Within the framework of her habilitation thesis Dr. Bieber researched the influence of fluctuating environmental conditions on the optimal timing of reproduction in wildlife species. 

Bieber specialized early in the field of animal ecology, which researches the relations between animals and their environment.  During her research at the University of Marburg Bieber concentrated on the edible dormouse (Glis glis). At FIWI she broadened the spectrum of her research subjects to common dormice and wild boars.  Her main interest is in the influence of environmental conditions on life history strategies. 

More info (in German)

(Web editor, 18 January 2016)