Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt

Conservation Genetics

Inferring genetic patterns of ongoing recolonization of Central Europe by elusive, large carnivores using novel SNP marker systems for noninvasive samples


The currently observed recolonisation of Central and Western Europe by previously near-extinct carnivores is an important topic for science and society. A detailed, cross-border knowledge about migration routes population growth and gene flow patterns are important for comprehensive wildlife monitoring, and are also the foundation for the scientific analysis of this natural experiment about the coexistence between large carnivores and humans in densely populated areas.

The project

The aim of the SAW project is the establishment of a competence network for the development of novel genetic markers systems for studying endangered European carnivores. To meet this aim we first analyse variable nucleotide positions (single nucleotide polymorphisms; SNPs) in the genome of five large carnivores (brown bear, Eurasian otter, wolf, lynx, wildcat) by next generation sequencing or large scale SNP chips. These markers are tested for their variability across European populations by data base queries. In parallel, we investigate different SNP genotyping technologies for their applicability for non-invasively collected sample material. The final marker systems will be tested on multiple populations of each species and compared with the results of other methods. By means of genotyping of samples from Central and Eastern Europe we will study general genetic diversity, gene flow and the impact of landscape genetic factors, in order to identify the genetic patterns of Europe’s recolonisation. All data will be stored in a genetic data base to facilitate future projects and search queries with regard to the origin of samples of unknown status, and thereby deciphering large-scale gene flow.

SNP-based genotypes of wolf samples called on a Fluidigm EP1 platform

 SNP-based genotypes of wolf samples called on a Fluidigm EP1 platform

Project partners

Marker development and population genetic analyses are carried out cooperatively by the three primary project partners Senckenberg (Dr. Carsten Nowak, Dr. Robert Kraus), Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (Dr. Jörns Fickel, Dr. Daniel Förster), and TU Munich (Prof. Dr. Ralph Kühn, Dipl.-Biol. Helmut Bayerl). The combination of the aforementioned factors – joint expertise, development of standardised marker systems and installation of a genetic data base – allows the inference of dispersal patterns, isolation factors, and distribution shifts across multiple studies on scales that surpass single, regional studies.