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ERC Starting Grant for Friederike Range

09-04-2012 - One of this year’s ERC Starting Grants has been awarded to Friederike Range, of the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.  Range plans to use the financial support from the EU to undertake research into collaborative behaviour of dogs and wolves, both within the species and with man.

Another ERC Grant goes to the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna): Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna has been allocated one of the prestigious Starting Grants of the European Research Council (ERC).  The award comes with approximately 1.3 million Euro of research money, which Range will use over the coming five years to investigate the behavioural mechanisms by which dogs and wolves cooperate with other members of their species as well as with humans.

Capable of close relationships

Wolves are highly social animals that build up deep relationships with other wolves.  For example, individual wolves cooperate in hunting, in defending their territories and in raising young.  Dogs, on the other hand, have close ties to their human owners and seem willing to cooperate with us.  We still know very little about the mechanisms that control these patterns of behaviour in dogs and wolves.  We do not even know what changes have come about during domestication.

A sense of justice and sympathy

Dogs have an array of behavioural patterns that had surprisingly not been studied until very recently.  Range summarizes the current status of our knowledge:  “They seem to have some sense of justice, as proven by the way they avoid unequal treatment.  In addition, some studies suggest that they show simple forms of sympathy”.  These two properties are thought to be important for the evolution of cooperation and may enable dogs to form relationships with their human owners.

Decoding the mechanisms for behaviour

Range has fairly precise plans for her future research.  “Thanks to the support from the ERC we shall be able to establish a new model system to study the behaviour patterns of dogs and wolves that have been raised and kept together at the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbrunn.  The animals will enable us to perform the first comprehensive studies on the emotional and cognitive mechanisms that seem to control behaviour.”  Range expects that her work will contribute to our understanding of the mechanisms of cooperation in primates, including humans.


ERC Starting Grants
It is currently difficult for young researchers in Europe to establish independent scientific careers.  ERC Starting Grants are intended to support first-rate researchers as they build up their own research groups and to enable them to pursue their research independently without requiring them to leave Europe.

The Messerli Research Institute
The Messerli Research Institute was established with the financial support of the Swiss Messerli Foundation under the aegis of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna and in collaboration with the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna.  The results of the Institute’s work should contribute to the scientific basis necessary for a constant improvement of man’s handling of animals.  The Messerli Research Institute is thereby taking on an important function in society, supporting people in their responsibilities towards animals and communicating its scientific findings to a broader public.

The Wolf Science Center
The Wolf Science Center (WSC) was established as a scientific society in 2008 by Dr Virányi, Dr Range and Prof. Kotrschal and is administered by its three founders.  The major goal is to undertake fundamental research on the evolution of cooperation, intellectual ability, man-animal interactions and domestication.  The WSC works closely with the University of Vienna and the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna.  It is funded by donations from private individuals and companies and educational programmes and by third-party funding as well as by contributions from the two universities and the local government of Niederösterreich.