Large carnivores, such as the grey wolf (Canis lupus), the Eurasian lynx (Lynx lynx) and the brown bear (Ursus arctos), are naturally re-expanding in Europe following conservation measures implemented since the 1970s. They are returning to areas from which they were absent for decades or even centuries.
To aid their conservation and management, the wolf populations in Europe are closely being monitored. These monitoring programmes rely extensively on genetic investigations, based on so-called non-invasive samples: animal materials found in the field from which DNA can be obtained (e.g. scats, hairs, urine). Furthermore, the research often involves individuals that move across national borders, which are meaningless to them.
CEwolf is an international consortium that cooperates on population genetic research of wolves in Central Europe. Wolves are effective long-distance dispersers that regularly travel hundreds of kilometres away from their source pack to find partners and new territories. Since the year 2000, wolves are spreading throughout Western and Central Europe. They are recolonizing former habitats in Western Poland, Germany, Denmark, and Czech Republic, with (up to now) occasional occurrences in neighbouring countries such as the Netherlands.
The main aim of the CEwolf consortium is to harmonize genetic methodologies and genotype data to allow for transnational comparisons of wolf individuals and pack structures and to allow for a comprehensive understanding of population and range dynamics. Consortiums ensure direct compatibility of data produced in different laboratories and provide the most cost-effective use of limited financial resources in biodiversity monitoring and conservation by avoiding repetitive genetic analysis. With the use of molecular techniques we support the monitoring of wolf expansion in Central Europe and aim at a better understanding of the ecological requirements of large carnivores, their spatial and genetic variation and their potential impact on nature and society.
We are currently members of six scientific organizations from four countries, with expertise in population genetics and/or wolf ecology. To allow for population-wide assessments of genetic data and the identification of individuals across country borders, we agreed on cooperation and on common markers and methods.
Group picture of the first CEwolf consortium meeting, August 5th 2014, Senckenberg Research Institute, Gelnhausen. From left to right: Robert Mysłajek, Arjen de Groot, Liselotte Wesley Andersen, Ilka Reinhardt, Sabina Nowak, Maciej Szewczyk, Carsten Nowak, Verena Harms and Hugh Jansman.
Involved countries and institutions: currently we consist of 6 partners from four countries, with one central genetics laboratory for each country involved (Alterra, Senckenberg, Aarhus, Warsaw).
Arjen de Groot, Hugh Jansman
Carsten Nowak, Anne Jarausch, Laura Hollerbach, Violeta Munoz-Fuentes
Liselotte Wesley Andersen
Robert Mysłajek, Ana Stanković, Maciej Szewczyk
Ilka Reinhardt, Gesa Kluth
We welcome institutes from other countries with an interest in becoming partners in the CEwolf consortium!
Harmonizing monitoring schemes and laboratory methods
Decades of wolf genetic research have yielded a large number of genetic markers to tackle both fundamental and applied research questions. Studies on wolf genetics have undoubtedly increased our understanding of the ecology, the demographic history and the population structure of wolves. However, attempts to connect results of such studies at larger spatial or temporal scales often suffer from the incompatibility of genetic markers implemented by different laboratories, which even make the identification of the source population of an individual difficult. Such a situation raises the need for harmonized monitoring schemes that would enable the understanding of gene flow and dispersal dynamics at a scale that really matters for long distance dispersers, such as wolves. Moreover, recent methodological advances are now in place, which aim at surveying more regions of the genome and an ever increasing number of samples at rapid speed to answer questions in greater detail. Therefore, there is an urgent need to overcome the current fragmentation of research and enable production of relevant, continent-wide studies which are required for successful conservation and management.
Distribution of the grey wolf in Europe. Colours indicate permanent wolf presence, and light grey sporadic wolf presence. Excluding Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia, for which no detailed data was available, 10 populations are recognized. Distribution and population divisions are largely based on Chapron et al. (2014). Source: deGroot et al. 2015, Mammal Review, in press.
Marker systems and protocols are well-established in several labs throughout the species’ range. By selecting best-performing markers that have been used for characterizing adjacent wolf populations, Senckenberg researchers have chosen a panel of 14 selection-neutral microsatellite loci, one mitochondrial (control region) sequence stretch and two sex determining markers in order to genetically characterize wolf samples. Since 2009, this panel has been successfully applied to >2,500 wolf samples (April 2015).
On the first meeting of the CEwolf consortium in August 2014, the founding members agreed to follow the Senckenberg protocols, as they have proven to be successful and all samples analyzed until 2014 have been run using these markers. In order to harmonize methods, all CEwolf labs:
In addition, we have established the first SNP genotyping technology suitable for noninvasively collected wolf samples (Kraus et al., 2015).
Exchange local developments
Rapid developments in the distribution, abundance and behavior of wolves occur in each of the countries involved in CEwolf. To allow a complete and up-to-date overview of the status of the Central European wolf population, the consortium acts as a platform for its members to update each other on local developments.
Through the intensive collaboration and data standardization we aim for joint research output concerning the population structure of Central European wolves.
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