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Rudolph Ippen Young Scientist Award for Friederike Pohlin

As part of this year's virtual "Joint AAZV / EAZWV Zoo and Wildlife Health Conference", Friederike Pohlin, wildlife veterinarian at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology, received the Rudolph Ippen Young Scientist Award for her previous publications.

The award is presented jointly by the Leibnitz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Germany and the European Association of Zoo and Wildlife Veterinarians (EAZWV) on the occasion of the annual specialist conference "The Joint AAZV / EAZWVZoo and Wildlife Health Conference". In memory of the recognized veterinarian and pioneer of wildlife pathology Rudolf Ippen (1927-2009), the award honours young scientists from the fields of wildlife medicine, conservation medicine, and zoo animal medicine, whose publications document a promising career in these fields.

About Friederike Pohlin

Born in South Tyrol, Friederike Pohlin graduated from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna. This was followed by a Conservation Medicine Internship at the Belize Wildlife and Referral Clinic, a master's degree in wildlife ecology and wildlife management at BOKU Vienna, a doctorate at the University of Pretoria and a residency at the European College of Veterinary Anaesthesia and Analgesia.

Friederike Pohlin has a broad research background in the areas of wildlife anesthesia, wildlife management, and stress physiology. She is particularly interested in the influence of management measures that serve to protect species and that have an impact on the health of wild animals. In addition, the veterinarian is committed to fighting wildlife crime and the illegal wildlife trade.

Friederike Pohlin is currently working as a veterinarian and scientist in the working group of the veterinary team at FIWI. There she is responsible for a variety of veterinary, clinical and research-related tasks that affect large carnivores as well as wild ungulates, small hibernators and birds. Her current research focus is on improving animal welfare when relocating wild rhinos in Africa.

We congratulate her!

Vetmeduni Press release


"Mini-Mallnitz" KLIVV/FIWI online scientific exchange

A side-effect of working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic has been a loss of contact with our colleagues. As well as being an important part of our social lives, those brief chats over coffee or while passing in the corridor were helpful to keep us connected regarding our current scientific work and the associated successes and challenges that we experience. To make up for this lack of casual, science-related communication, this year (2021) we decided to start an online event that would allow as many Wilhelminenberg scientists and students as possible to meet up for some scientific exchange.

On 30th November, over 50 scientists and students from FIWI and KLIVV (including the Wolf Science Centre) met online in the second edition of the meeting. You can see some of the participants in the screenshot above. We’re happy to report that it was a great success once more!

Our current format involves five to six very short talks in three sessions lasting an hour each over the course of half a day. The content includes ongoing research projects, as well as insights into the scientific services offered at Wilhelminenberg. We try to give priority to talks from our student colleagues at PhD and Masters levels, and see the meeting as an excellent opportunity for all of us to practice giving talks in a friendly environment. The strict maximum time limit of 5 minutes per speaker allows an efficient overview of many projects but it can be challenging for the presenters. So far it has worked really well – we haven’t had to mute anybody yet!

We would like to continue holding the meeting twice a year either fully online or in a hybrid format, preferably with a rotating organizing committee. In case you’re interested in helping to plan the next meeting, please get in touch.


Melanie Dammhahn ist the new head of the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology

Since December 1, 2021, the Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) of the Vetmeduni has a new head. Melanie Dammhahn is now in charge of managing the research institute on Vienna's Wilhelminenberg. Research on the ecology of the individual behaviour of mammals is particularly close to the heart of the native German scientist and experienced biologist.

Melanie Dammhahn completed her diploma studies in biology at the Eberhard-Karl University in Tübingen, Germany and the University of Sussex, U.K. This was followed by doctoral studies at the Georg-August University and at the German Primate Center, Leibniz Institute for Primate Research in Göttingen. In 2020 she completed her habilitation in animal ecology (habilitation thesis: “From individual variation to community structure: patterns, determinants and consequences of within- and between-species variation in behaviour, life-history and ecology”) at the University of Potsdam, where she still works as a private lecturer at the Institute for Biochemistry and Natural Sciences.

In addition to animal and behavioural ecology, Dammhahn's research interests include evolutionary ecology as well as life history theory and community ecology, especially in mammals. Dammhahn's research projects are interdisciplinary and include the areas of behavioural biology, cognition, evolution and ecology. Long-term field studies have taken the biologist to Madagascar and Canada, among other places. Melanie Dammhahn has extensive experience and qualifications in teaching animal and behavioural ecology, nature conservation biology and ecological statistics. From 2017 to 2018 she was a substitute professor for animal ecology at the University of Greifswald.

Melanie Dammhahn is a member of the International Society for Behavioural Ecology (ISBE), the Society for Tropical Ecology (gtö), the German Zoological Society (DZG) and the Ethological Society and the Society for Primatology (GfP).

The individual in focus: where evolution, ecology and ethology meet

Melanie Dammhahn researches the ecology of the individual behavior of mammals. How bravely or shyly an animal behaves determines how it uses its habitat and ultimately how it can keep pace with the rapid changes in habitats. If you compare the city mouse and the country mouse from Aesop's fable, you can see that city mice are street-smart.

Next-generation conservation technologies to reduce biodiversity loss

A new study provides a practical guide for decision-makers and practitioners on the emerging new tools for protecting biodiversity, and the remaining research gaps. More investment and support for research into emerging genomic tools for conservation is needed to prevent further biodiversity loss, according to a new paper published in Conversation Genetics.

Dr Pamela Burger from FIWI/Vetmeduni Vienna highlighted that genome analysis has already helped conservation managers “to understand the diversity and connectivity of endangered populations. But the new genome technologies can help select the best individuals for translocation or reintroduction programmes.” Genomic regions responsible for disease resistance or adaptive fitness can be identified, and in the long-term scientists  might even be able to increase the resilience in a population. For practitioners, there is still a gap in understanding about how this can be used for new challenges. Andrej Arih, head of department for nature conservation in Triglav National Park (Slovenia), is pleased that genetic monitoring has improved the understanding of population structure and dynamics. The park management hopes that genomics will go a step further and help them predict how ecosystems may adapt to future climatic changes.

The paper is the result of a workshop on novel genomic tools for conservation that was organised in March 2020 as part of the G-BIKE (Genomic Biodiversity Knowledge for Resilient Ecosystems) project funding by the COST action programme of the European Union. It comes after the Kunming Declaration was adopted during the high-level segment of the UN biodiversity conference 2020 that took place on October 12 and 13, 2021. It sets an objective “to develop, adopt and implement an ambitious and transformative post-2020 global biodiversity framework”.

The international team of authors from multiple scientific and international institutions highlight some of the research gaps, and areas where support is needed for practitioners to use some of the genomics tools that have been available for many years but that often remain underused due to lack of capacity building or inadequate resources.

The article "New developments in the field of genomic technologies and their relevance to conservation management" by Gernot Segelbacher, Mirte Bosse, Pamela Burger, Peter Galbusera, José A. Godoy, Philippe Helsen, Christina Hvilsom, Laura Iacolina, Adla Kahric, Chiara Manfrin, Marina Nonic, Delphine Thizy, Ivaylo Tsvetkov, Nevena Veličković, Carles Vilà, Samantha M. Wisely and Elena Buzan was published in the journal Conservation Genetics.


Hibernating bears: fat but healthy

Brown bears build up large fat reserves as a source of energy to fuel their hibernation. Despite the total physical inactivity, however, hibernating bears do not develop any cardiovascular disease during several months in winter. An international study led by Vetmeduni that was recently published in Scientific Reports shows that brown bears have effective protective mechanisms during hibernation to prevent damage to their blood plasma and muscles despite profound changes in their lipid metabolism and elevated lipid levels.

To investigate the mechanisms by which hibernators avoid the metabolic disorder known as atherogenic dyslipidemia during hibernation, the researchers assessed lipoprotein and cholesterol metabolisms of free‑ranging Scandinavian brown bears (Ursus arctos) by measuring lipoprotein sizes, subclasses and composition, triglyceride‑related plasma‑enzyme activities, and muscle lipid composition along with plasma‑levels of antioxidant capacities and inflammatory markers in bears during winter and summer. Their findings: “Although nearly all lipid levels were higher in the winter, a nearly one-third increase in activity of cholesteryl ester transfer protein, a key enzyme involved in cholesterol recycling based on futile cycles of re-esterification via lipoprotein metabolism, helped to stabilize the lipid composition of high‑density lipoproteins (HDL). The concentration of inflammatory metabolites declined in winter and correlated inversely with cardioprotective HDL2b‑proportions and HDL sizes that increased during hibernation,” says first author Sylvain Giroud, a wildlife and physiological ecologist at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology at Vetmeduni.

The article „Hibernating brown bears are protected against atherogenic dyslipidemia“ by Sylvain Giroud, Isabelle Chery, Mathilde Arrivé, Michel Prost, Julie Zumsteg, Dimitri Heintz, Alina L. Evans, Guillemette Gauquelin‑Koch, Jon M. Arnemo, Jon E. Swenson, Etienne Lefai, Fabrice Bertile, Chantal Simon, and Stéphane Blanc was published in Scientific Reports veröffentlicht.

Vetmeduni press release


Wild boars don't like hot weather either

Typically, large ungulates show a single seasonal peak of heart rate, a proxy of energy expenditure, in early summer. Different to other large ungulates, wild boar females had peak heart rates early in the year (around early April), which likely indicates high costs of reproduction. This peak was followed by a trough over summer and a secondary summit in autumn/early winter, which coincided with the mast seeding of oak trees and the mating season. Wild boars counteracted the effects of cold temperatures by decreasing subcutaneous body temperature by peripheral vasoconstriction. They also passively gained solar radiation energy by basking in the sun. 

However, the shape of the seasonal rhythm in heart rate indicates that it was apparently not primarily caused by thermoregulatory costs but by the costs of reproduction. Wild boar farrow early in the year, visible in high HRs and sudden changes in intraperitoneal body temperature of females. Arguably, a prerequisite for this early reproduction as well as for high energy metabolism over winter is the broad variety of food consumed by this species, i.e., the omnivorous lifestyle.

Extremely warm and dry summers, as experienced during the study years (2017, 2018), may increasingly become a bottleneck for food intake of wild boar.

The article "Atypical for northern ungulates, energy metabolism is lowest during summer in female wild boars (Sus scrofa)" von Thomas Ruf, Sebastian G. Vetter, Johanna Painer, Gabrielle Stalder & Claudia Bieber ist im September 2021 in der Zeitschrift Scientific Reports erschienen.


Important state award for Walter Arnold

Professor Walter Arnold, long-time head of the Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, received the Great Silver Medal for Services to the Republic of Austria. It is one of the highest state awards and was presented during his retirement ceremony on August 27, 2021.

For more than 25 years, Professor Arnold was responsible for the Research Institute for Wildlife Ecology located on Wilhelminenberg, which enjoys a high reputation beyond national borders. He expanded the interdisciplinary research approach and the range of methods of FIWI, putting the focus on the needs and behavior of wild animals in the context of ecology. The research results obtained in this way form an important scientific basis for effective nature, species and environmental protection.

More info (in German) on the website of the Vetmeduni



Little snoozers: Common dormice in portrait

The small, nimble climber has thick, gray fur, large dark button eyes and small ears. It is nocturnal and lives up to its name: the dormouse is the world record holder when it comes to hibernation. In 2021 the rodent was named Animal of the Year by the Austrian Nature Conservation Union. At the Vetmeduni, researchers are devoting themselves to the dormouse with the help of various research projects. At the Research Institute for Wildlife Science and Ecology, Claudia Bieber heads some current research projects on the life strategies of the dormouse.

Profile and interesting facts about the dormouse

  • ORDER: Rodents (Rodentia)
  • FAMILY: Dormouse (Gliridae)
  • GENUS: Glis
  • TYPE: dormouse (lat .: glis glis)
  • BODY LENGTH: approx. 14 cm
  • TAIL LENGTH: approx. 11 cm
  • WEIGHT: approx. 100 g in early summer
  • AGE: up to 14 years
  • DISTRIBUTION AREAS: Continental Europe, Asia Minor, Caucasus to northwestern Iran


Video: dormice performing a test task in the labyrinth (Video: Jan Müller, Tabea Lammert/FIWI)

More info on the Vetmeduni website



MERS-CoV induces similar immune response as with SARS-CoV-2

MERS-CoV, a betacoronavirus transmitted by dromedaries, is significantly more lethal than SARS-CoV-2, with a mortality rate in humans of up to 35%. A recently published international study led by Pamela Burger from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology of the Vetmeduni Vienna suggests that the immune response to MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 is similar in infected individuals, whether human or dromedary. According to the researchers, further work is now urgently needed to better understand MERS-CoV disease dynamics in both dromedaries and humans.

The article "Innate and Adaptive Immune Genes Associated with MERS-CoV Infection in Dromedaries“ by Sara Lado, Jean P. Elbers, Martin Plasil, Tom Loney, Pia Weidinger, Jeremy V. Camp, Jolanta Kolodziejek, Jan Futas, Dafalla A. Kannan, Pablo Orozco-terWengel, Petr Horin, Norbert Nowotny and Pamela A. Burger was published in Cells.


Research project: memory and cognition in dormice

He has been in hibernation since October and seemingly nothing can wake him up. But his inner clock is ticking, inevitably signalling the approaching end of the winter. For the edible dormouse (Glis glis), hibernation is an adaptive mechanism to deal with the cold season when food is scarce. But what effect does the months-long slowdown of almost all metabolic processes have on the little rodent’s memory, spatial orientation and cognition? A team of researchers led by Claudia Bieber from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) at Vetmeduni Vienna is looking into this question, researching memory retention in edible dormice. 

Good to know: The Austrian League for Nature Conservation (Naturschutzbund Österreich) has named the edible dormouse Animal of the Year for 2021 as part of its effort to raise awareness of the threats to their habitat and their way of life.

More info

(Web editor, 4 February 2021)

Climate Change and Wildlife: The Limits to Phenotypic Plasticity

The world is in the midst of climate change. But how exactly does this affect the animal world in its current areas of distribution? To cope with environmental fluctuations, including climate change and global warming, animal species employ various adaptive strategies, which include the use of hypometabolic states, e.g. torpor and hibernation, and the modulation of energy management including its effects when animals grow into adults. This is discussed in a current special edition of the leading physiological, ecological, and evolutionary science journals Frontiers in Physiology and Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution, which includes 15 publications. In the editorial of the special edition, written by editors Sylvain Giroud from the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (Vetmeduni Vienna), Andreas Nord from Lund University (Sweden), Kenneth Storey from Carleton University (Canada), and Julia Nowack from Liverpool John Moores University (UK), what becomes clear is that despite use of plastic physiological and behavioural responses, climate change is still likely to impact animal function.

More info

(Web editor, 18 January 2021)

Friederike Pohlin receives the FUTURA-prize 2020

In December 2020, the FUTURA prizes were awarded to young South Tyroleans abroad. Friederike Pohlin, wildlife veterinarian at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology (FIWI) at the Vetmeduni Vienna, received the award for her research in the field of wildlife management and wildlife anesthesia. The award ceremony took place in Bolzano, Italy, at the end of December 2020 via livestream.

The native South Tyrolean Friederike Pohlin was awarded the FUTURA sponsorship award for her doctoral thesis on the subject of transport stress in rhinos. The wildlife medicine specialist dealt in particular with the stress physiology in African white rhinos during the relocation of the animals to safe habitats. Pohlin is committed to the protection of species and the management of wild animals.

More info (in German)

(Web editor, 11 January 2021)