Skip to main content

Metabolism switch in bears and garden dormice during hibernation

Insights into the adaptation mechanisms observed in nature could support the development of therapeutic approaches for human diseases. Experimental studies suggest that trimethylamine-N-oxide (TMAO) is involved in the etiology of cardiometabolic disorders and chronic kidney disease (CKD), in part through the metabolism of ingested foods. Using a comparative biomimetic approach, we examined the circulating levels of the gut metabolites betaine, choline, and TMAO in human CRF across animal species and during hibernation in two species, brown bears and garden dormice.

During hibernation, bears and garden dormice produce betaine to protect their cells from damage. In garden dormice, who can lower their body temperature close to the ambient temperature, no betaine production is detectable during a deep torpor, but betaine is produced during the wake-up intervals in which they increase their body temperature again. In bears living in the wild, there appears to be a "metabolic switch" in place to produce betaine instead of TMAO. In these species, betaine seems to be produced endogenously in hibernation and not ingested through food (since they do not eat in hibernation). The characterization and understanding of such an adaptive switch could provide clues to novel treatment options for lifestyle diseases such as chronic kidney disease.

The article "Insights in the regulation of trimetylamine N-oxide production using a comparative biomimetic approach suggest a metabolic switch in hibernating bears" by Thomas Ebert, Johanna Painer, Peter Bergman, Abdul Rashid Qureshi, Sylvain Giroud, Gabrielle Stalder, Karolina Kublickiene, Frank Göritz, Sebastian Vetter, Claudia Bieber, Ole Fröbert, Jon M. Arnemo, Andreas Zedrosser, Irene Redtenbacher, Paul G. Shiels, Richard J. Johnson & Peter Stenvinkel was published in Scientific Reports online.

(Web editor, 30 NOvember 2020)

Temperature fluctuations influence the distribution of the Caspian whipsnake

Adaptation to changing environment is a growing challenge in the era of the “Anthropocene”, and populations capable of rapid adaptation to novel selection pressures are more likely to survive. The Caspian whipsnake (Dolichophis caspius) is a large-bodied, non-venomous colubrid and inhabits dry steppe and Mediterranean habitats, from Eastern Europe around the Caspian and Black Sea to the north-western edge of its distribution in Hungary.

Applying ddRAD sequencing a research team around Pamela Burger of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at Vetmeduni Vienna investigated the genetic diversity and adaptive evolution to local habitat types. They identified 751 selected genotypes correlated with seven key climatic variables. They found that isothermality, the day-to-night temperature oscillation in comparison to the summer-to-winter oscillation, may have an important role in the distribution and adaptation of Caspian whipsnakes.

The article "Landscape Genomics of a Widely Distributed Snake, Dolichophis caspius (Gmelin, 1789) across Eastern Europe and Western Asia" by Mahtani-Williams S, Fulton W, Desvars-Larrive A, Lado S, Elbers JP, Halpern B, Herczeg D, Babocsay G, Lauš B, Nagy ZT, Jablonski D, Kukushkin O, Orozco-terWengel P, Vörös J, and Burger PA was recently published in the journal Genes. The article even made it onto the cover of this journal edition.

(Web editor, 29 October 2020)

Set-asides are good for hares

Since the beginning of the intensification of agriculture, biodiversity in agricultural areas has decreased more and more. The use of pesticides and artificial fertilizers, a decline in the diversity of crops grown, drainage, the use of large machines on ever larger fields with monocultures - all of these play a role. As a result of the intensification of agriculture, fallow land, i.e. periodically set-aside arable land, has also decreased significantly. It is precisely these uncultivated green areas that are particularly important for biodiversity. They provide a diverse habitat for a wide variety of insects, spiders, birds and mammals.

Brown hares are particularly badly affected by the lack of fallow land in the modern cultural landscape. This is mainly due to the high mortality of young rabbits. Their survival rate determines the annual population growth and the spring density of the following year. In a long-term study in Lower Austria, we found a clear positive relationship between the survival rate of young rabbits and the proportion of fallow land.

Fallow areas provide valuable support for the brown hare population. The more there are, the better the brown hares are doing. It has been shown that habitat improvement measures that increase biodiversity have a significantly greater positive effect on prey populations than the decimation of predators. Our study highlights the importance of fallow agricultural land. In contrast, the planting of energy crops on previously fallow land has negative effects on mammal and bird populations in the open cultural landscape.

The article "Positive effects of set-asides on European hare (Lepus europaeus) populations: Leverets benefit from an enhanced survival rate" by Stéphanie C. Schai-Braun, Thomas Ruf, Erich Klansek, Walter Arnold, and Klaus Hackländer was published in the journal Biological Conservation.

(Web editor, 13 October 2020)

LIFE DINALP BEAR judged best European nature project

On Wednesday, October 21, 2020, the EU Commission's jury announced the best LIFE projects that were completed in the past year as part of the European Green Week celebrations. The LIFE Awards, which are now in their 14th year, honor the most innovative, inspiring and effective LIFE projects. The best projects were awarded in the following categories: environment, nature and climate protection. Among the 15 selected projects, LIFE DINALP BEAR won as best nature project. The project is coordinated by the Slovenian Forest Service, supporting management and protection of brown bear populations in the northern Dinaric Mountains and in the Alps, and brings together partners from four countries - Slovenia, Croatia, Italy and Austria. It was also financially supported by the Austrian Ministry of the Environment. The project partner in Austria is the Research Institute of WIldlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna.

More information:

Presentation video of the LIFE DINALP BEAR Project.

LIFE DINALP BEAR Project Website

Press release of the European Union

(Web editor, 27 October 2020)

Dr. Gabrielle Stalder was awarded the title of "Fachtierärztin" (specialized veterinarian) for zoo- and wildlife

In July Dr. Gabrielle Stalder, head of the working group wildlife medicine at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology passed the "Fachtierarzt" exam in the area of wildlife medicine.  Our veterinarians at the institute are all specialized in wildlife medicine, but this title is an additional post-graduate qualification for veterinarians. More about this (in German) in the July edition of the Vetjournal (p.42).  

Congratulations, Gabrielle, on passing this challenging exam!


(Web editor, 3 August 2020)

An animal of the past, present and future

Camels are amazing animals. Because of their unique adaptation to different and extreme environments, no other domestic animal (e.g. cattle, sheep or goats) can serve people as much as the domestic camel. Dromedaries and Bactrian camels, the two native camels of the Old World, were invaluable for the transportation of goods along the Silk Road.

Due to centuries of domestication, hybridization is very common, but difficult to see with an “untrained” eye. FIWI researchers have collected samples from over 120 dromedaries worldwide. Through genetic analyses, they were able to identify effective migration patterns that fit well-known trade routes on the Mediterranean coast, connecting northwest Africa with the north of the Arabian Peninsula. This is in line with the routes of the well-known caravans that traveled along the Silk Road to South Asia.

More about that in the nature ecology & evolution article BEHIND THE PAPER: Camel - the animal of the past, present and future by Sara Lado, Pamela Burger, and Elena Ciani.

The scientific article "Genome-wide diversity and global migration patterns in dromedaries follow ancient caravan routes" by Sara Lado, Jean Pierre Elbers, Angela Doskocil, Davide Scaglione, Emiliano Trucchi, Mohammad Hossein Banabazi, Faisal Almathen, Naruya Saitou, Elena Ciani, and Pamela Anna Burger was published on 16 July 2020 in the journal Communications Biology.

A further article on the topic, "Genomic signatures of domestication in Old World camels" by Robert Rodgers Fitak, Elmira Mohandesan, Jukka Corander, Adiya Yadamsuren, Battsetseg Chuluunbat, Omer Abdelhadi, Abdul Raziq, Peter Nagy, Chris Walzer, Bernard Faye, and Pamela Anna Burger was published in Communications Biology on 19 June 2020. There is also a related press release by the Vetmeduni Vienna.

(Web editor, 20 July 2020)

Photo competition against rabies: World Rabies Day 2020

Rabies is a rare but extremely dangerous infectious disease which, if left untreated, is fatal for humans. It is true that rabies has been eradicated in Austria thanks to successful rabies control since 2008. Nevertheless, tens of thousands of people worldwide die from the virus infection every year. The international World Rabies Day on September 28 is a reminder that much has been achieved in the fight against rabies, but far from all. The Vetmeduni Vienna is drawing attention to this with a photo competition on Instagram under the hashtag # WRDvetmeduni2020. Wildlife doctors from the Research Institute for Wildlife Science and Ecology Anna Haw, Annika Posautz and Friederike Pohlin conveyed the importance of the topic to the participants at a thematic "Instawalk" with Igersvienna and answered questions about it. All pictures posted by Instagram users with public profiles between September 1 and 28, 2020 (World Rabies Day) under the hashtag #WRDvetmeduni2020 will automatically take part in the competition. Participants are encouraged to describe their intention or the background of the submitted pictures in the posting text. 

More information in the press release of the Vetmeduni Vienna.

(Web editor, 1 September 2020)

Lone rangers – why dormice are not as cuddly as they look

Animals may aggregate for various reasons, such as spatial resource distribution, for reasons of sexual selection and mating opportunities, or to lower individual predation risk. Edible dormice tend to remain entirely solitary while foraging for food, but frequently share sleeping sites. Scientists at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna have been studying a local dormouse population in the Vienna Woods for thirteen years. Thomas Ruf and Claudia Bieber from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna analyzed the grouping behaviour of more than 4000 marked dormice.

Dormice are unusual among rodents in that their sociability varies with resource availability. At present, it seems clear that dormice massively switch from high-energy turnover, continuously high body temperature and intense foraging in reproductive years to an energy-saving mode in non-reproductive years that makes extensive use of huddling, as well as reduced foraging activity, and short torpor.

The article "Use of Social Thermoregulation Fluctuates With Mast Seeding and Reproduction in a Pulsed Resource Consumer" by Thomas Ruf and Claudia Bieber ws published in Oecologia. 

More info

(Web editor, 1 July 2020)

Animals are insufficiently prepared for extreme temperatures

What are the long-term consequences of temperature when birds and mammals develop? This question is of great importance for both humans and animals in view of climate change.  A current study of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) of the Vetmeduni Vienna has now examined if climatic challenges in early life could have advantages later on.

Although birds and mammals are quite different, both are known to change how they keep warm or cool when temperature in the egg or womb fluctuates. Sylvain Giroud from FIWI and Andreas Nord from Lund University in Sweden analyzed existing studies to examine whether these effects are positive or negative, and if they remain as animals grow older. According to their findings, it is the timing, length and severity of temperature change during development that determines if an animal will be better or worse at dealing with such temperatures as adults. 

The article "Lifelong effects of thermal challenges during development in birds and mammals" by Andreas Nord and Sylvain Giroud was published in Frontiers in Physiology.

More info

(Web editor, 25 May 2020)

New drug for improving safety during wildlife anaesthesia

Medical interventions under anaesthesia are a common necessity not only in humans but also in non-domestic mammals. However, the anaesthetic drug combinations currently used often lead to undesirable side effects, such as severe hypertension. A new drug now promises to improve anaesthetic safety in wildlife anaesthesia, as a recent study, led by Gabrielle Stalder of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at Vetmeduni Vienna, shows.

The article "Cardiovascular effects of intravenous vatinoxan (MK-467) in medetomidine- tiletamine-zolazepam anaesthetized red deer (Cervus elaphus)“ by Joy Einwaller, Johanna Painer, Marja Raekallio, Kristina Gasch, Flavia Restitutti, Ulrike Auer, and Gabrielle Stalder was published in Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia.

More info

(Web editor,  1 April 2020)

FIWI scientist Annika Posautz becomes "VetWoman"

On Wednesday, February 19, 2020, from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m., the kick-off to the VetWoman funding program took  place in the ballroom of Vetmeduni Vienna. We are very pleased that our scientist Annika Posautz was chosen as one of the 10 participants. VetWoman supports excellence, vision and ambition and wants to develop highly talented female scientists of today as role models of tomorrow. A top-class jury consisting of Felix R. Althaus (former Dean of the Vetsuisse Faculty at the University of Zurich and member of the University Council of Vetmeduni Vienna), Sylvia Cremer (group leader and professor at IST Austria) and Rector Petra Winter selected ten highly talented applicants. In addition to professional excellence, the selection criteria included high development potential as a future manager. We are happy for our colleague and wish her every success!

More info

(Web editor, 20 February 2020)