Senckenberg Research

Biodiversity, Systematics and Evolution

 Snape Sibon noalamina from Panamo auf einem Blatt
Elected as one of the “top 10” new species described in 2012: Sibon noalamina from Panama. (Copyright: Sebastian Lotzkat)



Systematics represents the 'core business' of the research museums. It addresses the key questions as to how many and what species are extant today and how they have developed in the course of the Earth's history. Its 'raw materials' consist of constantly expanding collections — the archives of Life, as it were. The collections are available to the international scientific community, and in many cases they contain what the scientific community accepts as being the definitive specimen for a given species.

Humanity shares its living space with up to 20 million other species — animals, fungi, plants, protists and bacteria. Of these, less than 2 million species have been scientifically recorded. This means that the greater part of the diversity of species is yet unknown, so our understanding of the interactions between the various species with their environment is necessarily incomplete.

Science's race against time

A large number of known and unknown species are becoming extinct, because we are destroying their habitats and because of our failure to use our resources sustainably. As a result, we are witnesses of a bizarre race in which hitherto unknown species are discovered on the one hand and others are exterminated on the other. In Europe, for instance, one quarter of all animal and plant species are threatened by extinction. And this means not just a loss in the quality of life. According to current estimates, the present 'biodiversity crisis' is causing annual costs of 450 billion euros in the European Union alone. This underlines the significance of systematics as one of the most important disciplines in biodiversity research.

Systematics as one of the building blocks of science

Systematics is the branch of science that is concerned with the classification of organisms, both those living today and ones that have died out. Without this groundwork having been done, other research disciplines would not be able to address the immeasurable scope of the Earth's biodiversity. Furthermore, the scientists categorize the basic units (taxa) in the form of evolutionary interrelationships. Systematics also plays the role of an integrative science. It provides an infrastructure that allows morphology, the geosciences and molecular genetics (genetic information) to be related to the theory of evolution.

GELNHAUSEN River Ecology and Conservation WILHELMSHAVEN DZMB Marine Research GÖRLITZ Botany Zoology Soil Zoology WEIMAR Palaeontology Quarternary and Taxonomy of Insects Phylogenetic Systematics Information Center Entomology MÜNCHEBERG DRESDEN Museum of Zoology and Geology Museum of Mineralogy BIK-F Biodiversity Dynamics and Climate Adaptation and Climate Evolution and Climate Knowledge Transfer Data and Modelling Centre Laboratory Centre FRANKFURT AM MAIN Marine Zoology Palaeoanthropology and Messel Research Botany and Molecular Evolution Terrestrial Zoology Palaeontology and Historical Geology
Core Area Participation no Participation

The diagram above displays the degree of participation of the Senckenberg research departments in the research field "Biodiversity and Systematics". Click on the department name to view its webpages.



Research activity highlights


Taxonomy: New Species as a basis for science

Male of Fecenia cylindrata

Taxonomy provides the nomenclatural foundation, supported by hypothesis, that is used by practically all other branches of science. How could an ecologist, a pharmacologist or a climate researcher otherwise communicate his or her findings regarding a given species to the international scientific community? One is only prepared to protect what one “knows by name”.more

Molecular Taxonomy of marine Organisms

Various organisms of the marine plankton.

In the marine environment, taxonomy presents special challenges. Many of the animal and plant species that live in the sea are difficult to distinguish from each other, making reliable classification problematic. Senckenberg's scientists rely not only on visible morphological characteristics, but they are also developing molecular methods to enable reliable identification of marine organisms. This innovative approach was given special recognition in 2012 as part of the 'Deutschland — Land der Ideen' initiative ('Germany — the country of ideas'). more

The Hoazin: fossils shed light on the origin of this strange bird

The Hoatzin (Opisthocomus hoazin)

Fossils can reveal a great deal about how life on Earth has developed. The Ornithological Section of the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt is one of only a few institutions throughout the world in which palaeornithological research has been carried out for more than 30 years. In recent years some surprising information has come to light regarding the historical distribution of bird groups still in existence today. more