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Assessing long-distance movements in large mammals - who walks the furthest?

Long-distance migrations of wildlife are globally threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, although they are critical to conservation of many species. Scientists from the FIWI Conservation Medicine Unit and international colleagues from the WCS (New York) and other institutions used GPS collars to analyze the extent to which various mammals moved throughout the year. These results have just been published in the journal Scientific Reports. It turned out that caribou or reindeer from numerous populations actually have the longest migrations (total distances over 1,200 km). Surprisingly, however, some species, e.g. wolves or the khulan (Mongolian wild ass) covered even greater distances throughout the year, although they did not regularly migrate like reindeer.

The data not only demonstrate the remarkable mobility of these species, but also highlight the need for large-scale connectivity of habitats to ensure the long-term survival of wide-ranging species.

More info (Vetmeduni website, in German)

(Web editor, 31 October 2019)

Vetmeduni Vienna, Carinthia and Hohe Tauern National Park can look back on the successful 1st Mallnitz Days

Back in February 2019, the Province of Carinthia and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, signed a letter of intent presenting a sustainable concept for the further development and expansion of the university infrastructure in Carinthia. Now the cooperation has begun to bear fruit - in the form of the first Mallnitz Days, which took place from 17 to 18 October 2019 in the National Park Visitor Center in Mallnitz. The Hohe Tauern National Park offers ideal conditions for research and education in wildlife science. For this reason, the focus of the 1st Mallnitzer Tage was on the themes of wildlife ecology and management. Well-known experts of the Vetmeduni Vienna provided the attendees with comprehensive knowledge in the course of numerous workshops, such as how to determine the age of red deer, or the future of chamois in the Eastern Alps. Walter Arnold, Leonida Fusani, Christoph Beiglböck and Friederike Range of the Department of Interdisciplinary Life Sciences reported on their research methods and results.

More info (in German)

(Web editor, 21 October 2019)

Everything has its price, including hibernation

Many mammals survive the cold season by hibernating. The lower their body temperature, the more energy hibernators can save. What is basically positive, however, has a big catch: Lower temperatures lead to an increased shrinkage of the protective caps of the chromosomes, the so-called telomeres, and this considerable damage can lead to the death of the cell and can be repaired only with great energy expenditure. Researchers at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at the Vetmeduni Vienna have now discovered in experiments with garden dormice and edible dormice that animals who hibernate at higher temperatures maintain longer telomeres, but also use more energy. The research team found significant differences in the shortening of the telomeres of the two species studied, when they hibernated either at 3 ° C or at 14 ° in the laboratory.

The article "Always a price to pay: hibernation at low temperatures comes with a trade-off between energy savings and telomere damage" by Julia Nowack, Iris Tarmann, Franz Hölzl, Steve Smith, Sylvain Giroud, and Thomas Ruf was published in Biology Letters.

(Web editor, 14 October 2019)

A quick guide to marmots

Did you know that marmots belong to the squirrel family? Or that there are 15 different types of marmots, all of which live only in the northern hemisphere? And do all marmots hibernate? Answers to these and other questions can be found in the recently published "Quick Guide" article "Marmots" by Walter Arnold in the prestigious journal Current Biology.

Click through for the  article

(Web editor, 3 October 2019)

The impact of supplemental winter feeding on the rumen microbiota of roe deer

Roe deer (Capreolus capreolus) populate wide areas of Europe and face seasonal variations in food availability. In some European countries, including Austria, it is therefore common practice to provide game animals with supplemental feed in winter. In a joint research project, the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and the Institute of Food Safety, Food Technology and Veterinary Public Health at Vetmeduni Vienna, together with the Institute of Wildlife Biology and Game Management at the University of Natural Resources and Life Sciences (BOKU), investigated to which extent supplementary winter feeding affects the bacterial composition in the rumen. The researchers analysed the rumen bacterial composition of free-ranging female roe deer, comparing animals from a study area with supplemental feeding sites to individuals relying on natural feed.

The results revealed a significant qualitative difference between the microbiota composition of the two populations studied. The change in the ruminal microbiota caused by supplemental winter feeding suggests a negative effect on the health status of roe deer. The high abundance of unclassified bacterial strains found in this study show that more knowledge is needed about the ruminal microbiota in wild ruminants.

The article "Impact of supplemental winter feeding on ruminal microbiota of roe deer (Capreolus capreolus)" by Sara Ricci, Robin Sandfort, Beate Pinior, Evelyne Mann, Stefanie U. Wetzels, and Gabrielle Stalder was published in the renowned journal Wildlife Biology.

More info

(Web editor, 1 October 2019)

Multidrug-resistant bacteria: urban brown rats as possible source

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“ 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

(Web editor, 9 September 2019)

The social networks of young wildboars

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 

Original article

(Web editor, 10 July 2019)

Who´s whistling in the Alps?

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 (Landlust Ausgabe Juli/August 2019).

Landlust Article "Mit Pfiff" (in German)

(Web editor, 3 July 2019)

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

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.

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“ by Petra Kaczensky, Sanchir Khaliun, John Payne, Bazartseren Boldgiv, Bayarbaatar Buuveibaatar and Chris Walzer was published in PLOS ONE.

More information

(Web editor, 19 June 2018)

Important evolutionary step discovered: body heat without shivering

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“ 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

(Web editor, 17 June 2019)

Reading the developmental history of red deer from bones

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” 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

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” 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

(Web editor, 16 May 2018)

When hares have a stomach ache

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)“ by 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

(Web editor, 25 April 2019)

The latest FIWI annual report is now available for download

The FIWI annual report 2018 summarizes the result of several of our research topics.  The report is in German language and can be downloaded from our website. 


Go to the Downloadpage

(Web editor, 17 April 2019)

In memoriam Kurt Onderscheka

We mourn the death of the founder of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, our emeritus full professor Dr. med. vet. Kurt Onderscheka, who died on 10 March 2019. His creative power, his talent for organization, his tenacious will and incredible commitment to the local wildlife and the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna will remain unforgotten. His name is inextricably linked to the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology and its success story.

Kurt Onderscheka was born on 20 November 1926 in Eleonorenhain in the Bohemian Forest (today's Czech Republic). After attending school in Prague and Vienna, after the end of the war Austria became his new home. From 1945-1950 he studied veterinary medicine at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and received his doctorate in 1951. In 1950 he took over a veterinary practice in Pinzgau (Salzburg), which he developed into one of the largest large animal practices in Austria. He left the practice after 10 years to devote himself to his special interest in animal nutrition, first with an activity in the industry, and starting in 1964 back at his alma mater, as an assistant at the Institute of Medical Chemistry. In 1970, he habilitated in animal nutrition and feed science.   His long-standing interest in nutrition and wildlife issues became a new scientific focus. In 1976 he was appointed full professor of the newly established department of Wildlife Science at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.

The University Organization Act 1975 created for the first time the possibility to involve private financiers directly in university research. Kurt Onderscheka seized this opportunity. He succeeded in attracting sponsors from industry and the Austrian hunting federations for the promotion of wildlife research. On December 22, 1977, the first research institute in Austria that operated under the joint financing of a university and private donors (organized as a membership society) was founded. Kurt Onderscheka was appointed head of the new Research Institute of Wildlife Science at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna.  Then this new institute needed a suitable space.  With his tireless energy, Kurt Onderscheka was able to gain the support of the City of Vienna, which still generously provides the institute´s building on Wilhelminenberg with an adjoining 45 hectare research enclosure for wildlife research.  The federal government also provided significant financial resources, as did the City of Vienna, the Austrian hunting associations and private sponsors, which made it possible to turn  the former outbuilding of Schloss Wilhelminenberg into a modern research facility. The institute flourished, extended its research agendas to ecological contexts and today enjoys international recognition as the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, "FIWI" for short.

Kurt Onderscheka received numerous awards for his scientific achievements, including the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art First Class and the large silver medal for services to the Republic of Austria. Even after his retirement in 1995, Kurt Onderscheka always remained associated with FIWI. His life's work is the foundation of the existing Research Center for Organismic Biology at Wilhelminenberg, consisting of the FIWI, the neighboring Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology and the Austrian Ornithological Institute, summarized in the Department of Integrative Biology and Evolution of the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna. We will not forget the Founding Father of FIWI and keep him in honorable memory.

Vienna, in March 2019


o.Univ.Prof. Dr. rer. nat. Walter Arnold
Head of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology