Senckenberg Museum of Natural History Görlitz

Dead beatles at CO2 escape Dead beatles at CO2 escape, Sept. 2010
Photo: H.-J. Schulz, Senckenberg Görlitz

Mofette fields

We are investigating soil nematode communities in mofette fields where geogenic CO2 rises from magma chambers through clefts and cracks in the crust upwards to the soil surface. The uppermost soil layers around these gas escapes show small-scale patches where CO2 concentrations are up to 100% and O2 concentrations are accordingly low or even zero. From “mofette species”, i.e species which we find in soils with high CO2 concentrations, we will analyse population ecology and adaptations to the temporary or even lasting lack of oxygen.

For further information on GBOL see For further information see


Within the "German Barcode of Life" project (a BMBF funded cooperation  of several German research institutes,, we - together with the department of animal ecology at the University of Bielefeld - start generating an inventory of nematode species occurring in soil and freshwater sediments in Germany, including their genetic fingerprints. The attempt will be a first step towards an assessment of soil nematode biodiversity within Germany.

Post-mining site Chicken Creek Chicken Creek in May 2010
Photo: A. König, Senckenberg Görlitz

Chicken Creek

Since October 2005 we investigate primary succession of soil nematode and tardigrade communities in a post-mining site “Chicken Creek” which was constructed and then left without further amelioration or recultivation. The study is part of the SFB Transregio 38, Structures and processes of the initial ecosystem development in an artificial water catchment of BTU Cottbus, TU München and ETH Zürich.

Soil sampling at Petermann Island observed by penguin Petermann Island in January 2010
Photo: A. Kertelhein


Soil animals of Antarctica are surprisingly well studied, e.g. with about 60 papers published on the nematode fauna of all parts of maritime (islands) and continental Antarctica wherever scientists had access to. We are thus able to more or less precisely predict species inventories of locations and based on this knowledge and on board of a tourist ship we investigate the role of human activity in the introduction of foreign species to Antarctica and the spreading of organisms within Antarctica.

Pine stand near Rüsselsheim Pine stand near Rüsselsheim, 2009
Photo: A. Gerlach, Senckenberg Görlitz

Forest of the future

Due to increasing crop losses caused by drought, foresters in some German regions are starting to plant South European oak trees,(Quercus ilex, Q. pubescens and Q. frainetto), which are known to tolerate dryness much better than most of the trees commonly grown in Middle Europe . In cooperation with the Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre BiK-F, we are investigating litter decomposition rate of South European oak species and the involvement of Middle European soil animals in decomposition processes. Analysis of the soil nematode fauna shall further give insight into decomposer food web structure and decomposition pathways.

photo of a tardigrade while feeding on a nematode Tardgrade consumes nematode
Photo: K. Hohberg, Senckenberg Görlitz

Predator-prey interaction in the soil food web

With densities of more than one million individuals per square meter, nematodes are the most numerous soil animals. Their activities affect microbial activity, decomposition rates, nutrient cycles and plant growth. Many predators exploit the nematode pool, but little is known about the strength of predator-prey interaction and the regulatory top-down influence on nematode species composition and population growth. To provide deeper insights into the structuring forces of predator-nematode interaction, we investigate feeding rates (functional response), influences (temperature, prey density, body sizes, soil pore sizes) and behavior (optimal foraging, preference changes, prey perception, attack response) in a tardigrade (Paramacrobiotus richtersi) nematode (Acrobeloides nanus) system. The results are used in testing ecological models.