Molecular Ecology



Prof. Dr. Markus Pfenninger
Professor, Head of the Molecular Laboratory, Head of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Research interests

The focus of my research is the genomic basis of niche evolution, speciation and local adaptation with closely related species pairs and intraspecific variation in land and freshwater snails, non-biting midges and extremophile molly fishes. We take an integrative approach: field studies, ecological and evolutionary experiments, comparative genomic approaches and experimental evolution. The ultimate vision thereby is to relate ecological differences functionally to their genomic basis.

Former Projects:

D1: cross-taxon genomic basis of climate-relevant fitness traits

D3: development of taxonomic dna-chips and other high-troughput tests for the routine identification of monitoring samples

D3.1: benthos barcoding

A1.3: radiation of pulmonata during the cenozoic [ellobioidea] (2008-2011)

A1.7: model selection

B1.14: tropical marine ecosystems: diversity and dynamics of coral reef ecosystems and reef-associated fish assemblages

C5.2: evolutionary adaptation potential of key aquatic species of different climatic regions

Curriculum Vitae

Aktuelle Publikationen

Dr. Barbara Feldmeyer
Researcher, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Research interests
evolutionary genetics, evolutionary ecology, behavioural genetics  

I am interested in the adaptive potential of organisms to their environment. This may include abiotic factors, such as temperature, as well as biotic factors, such as the interplay within a social ant colony.

Niche evolution 
Closely related species, as well as different populations of one species, often occupy different niches and are thus adapted to different environmental properties. I’m interested in the adaptive potential of species to their environment, specifically to changing temperature and climate conditions. In this respect, a combinatory approach of studying both, proximate (phenotypic) as well as ultimate (genetic) traits is optimal. The combination of different methods (e.g. life-history trait determination, identification of selected genes) allows to draw conclusions on the proportion of phenotypic plasticity and evolutionary differentiation on the regulatory or structural level. As study organism I am working with the pond snail genus, Radix. Niche models have shown, that the distribution ranges between species (as well as populations) differ in temperature, as well as length of dry period.            

Behavioural genetics 
Social Hymenopterans feature a number of special traits, which clearly set them apart from all other animal groups. In ants, different worker castes and the queens develop from the same genetic background (polyphenism). In addition ant workers are further specialized on various tasks, from brood tending, over nest guarding to foraging. In some ant species behavioural caste differentiation is associated with morphological caste differentiation, however in other species monomorphic workers perform the different duties. I’m interested in the genetic mechanisms that lead to the development of the different castes as well as their differential behaviours. The genus Temnothorax is an ideal study system, as salvemakeing evolved several times independently, thus making it possible to investigate and compare the evolution of behavioural patterns in closely related species. In addition, the system allows to investigate co-evolutionary processes and local adaptation between closely related slavemaker and host species.  

External Links
List of publications at Google Scholar Profile
Barbara Feldbmeyers’ Researcher ID

Juliane Hartke (PhD Student)
Marina Choppin (PhD Student)

Former Students
Austin Alleman (PhD student)
Philip Kohlmeier (PhD student)
Matteo Negroni (PhD student)


Publication list

Dr. Halina Binde Doria
PostDoc, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Research interests

Currently, I’m interested in how organisms respond to changes in their environment at the molecular level with shifting of the gene pool by selection/increased mutation rates. These partially irreversible changes can lead to important changes in ecosystems functions. To this end, my project aims to develop and establish, as a tool in environmental monitoring, an innovative functional monitoring to link observed changes in mutation rates of three different animal models ( Chironomus riparius, Daphnia galeata and Eisenia fetida) with exposure to environmental pollutants.

Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Biology, with emphasis on Toxicology and Genetics, which took place both, in Brazil and in Germany, at Federal University of Paraná (UFPR) and at Karlsruhe Institute of Technology (KIT), respectively.  I have large experience in the area of Aquatic Ecotoxicology with emphasis on cell and molecular biology biomarkers of contamination.

Doria, H.B., Ferreira, M. B., Rodrigues, S.D., Lo, S.M., Domingues, C.E., Nakao, L.S., Campos, S.X., Ribeiro, C.A.O., Randi, M.A.F. (2018): Time does matter! Acute copper exposure abolishes rhythmicity of clock gene in Danio rerio. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety, v. 155, p. 26-36

Doria, H.B., Voigt, C.L., Sandrini-Neto, L., Campos, S.X., De Oliveira-Ribeiro, C.A., Randi, M.A.F. (2017): How and where to perform biomonitoring studies: different levels of toxic metal pollution are detected in the Alagados Reservoir in Southern Brazil. Evnironmental Science and Pollution Research, v. 24, p. 13080-13094, 2017. 2

Dr. Ann-Marie Waldvogel née Oppold
PostDoc, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Research interests

Population genetics & genomics with insects, genomics of population divergence, molecular ecology and evolution, adaptation and climate, epigenetic response to environment

I am interested in genomic mechanisms that shape populations, eventually driving population divergence. Such mechanisms can be influenced by extrinsic (abiotic of biotic interactions with the environment of individuals) or intrinsic factors (interaction of different genomic and molecular elements) or a complex interplay of both. 
My current research focuses on evolutionary dynamics of Chironomus riparius, the non-biting midge or harlequin fly. I am investigating population genomic signatures of the different evolutionary forces, i.e. mutation, selection, drift, gene flow, and recombination. Moreover, I aim to disentangle the influence of climate factors, especially temperature (as extrinsic factors), as well as the influence of mobile genetic elements (as intrinsic factors) on the evolution of population divergence.

My approaches combine population genomics with individual genome scans and Pool-Seq data, common garden experiments, experimental evolution, and field work.

Google Scholar Profile


Müller R, Shinn C, Waldvogel AM, Oehlmann J, Ribeiro R, Moreira-Santos M (2019): Long-term effects of the fungicide pyrimethanil on aquatic primary producers in macrophyte-dominated outdoor mesocosms in two European ecoregions. Science of The Total Environment, 665:982-994, doi: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2019.02.050

Foucault Q, Wieser A, Heumann-Kiesler C, Diogo JB, Cocchiararo B, Nowak C, Waldvogel AM, Pfenninger M (2018): Experimental assessment of reproductive isolation and their consequences for seasonal hybridisation dynamics. Biological Journal of the Linnean Society, 126(2):327-337, doi: 10.1093/biolinnean/bly177.

Foucault Q, Wieser A, Waldvogel AM, Feldmeyer B, Pfenninger M (2018): Rapid adaptation to high temperatures in Chironomus riparius. Ecology and Evolution,8(24):12780-12789, doi: 10.1002/ece3.4706

Foucault Q, Wieser A, Waldvogel AM, Pfenninger M (2018): Establishing Laboratory Cultures and Performing Ecological and Evolutionary Experiments with the Emerging Model Species Chironomus riparius. Journal of Applied Entomology, doi: 10.1111/jen.12606.

Waldvogel A. , Wieser A., Schell T., Patel S., Schmidt H., Hankeln T., Feldmeyer B., Pfenninger M. (2018) (minor revisions): The genomic footprint of climate adaptation in Chironomus riparius. Molecular Ecology, 27(6): 1439-1456, doi: 10.1111/mec.14543

Oppold A., Pfenninger M. (2017): Direct estimation of the spontaneous mutation rate by short-term mutation accumulation lines in Chironomus riparius. Evolution Letters, doi: 10.1002/evl3.8. 

Oppold A., Schmidt H., Rose M., Hellmann S.L., Dolze F., Ripp F., Weich B., Schmidt-Ott U., Schmidt E., Kofler R., Hankeln T., Pfenninger M. (2017): Chironomus riparius (Diptera) genome sequencing reveals the impact of minisatellite transposable elements on population divergence. Molecular Ecology, 26: 3256–3275. doi:10.1111/mec.14111

Oppold A., Müller R. (2017, in press): Epigenetics – A hidden target of insecticides. In: Epigenetics: how the environment can have impact on genes and regulate phenotypes. Advances in Insect Physiology. Volume 53, Verlinden H (eds).

Kreß A., Oppold A. Kuch U., Oehlmann J., Müller R. (2017 in press): Cold tolerance of the Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus and its response to epigenetic alterations. Journal of Insect Physiology, doi: 10.1016/j.jinsphys.2017.04.003.

Oppold, A., Pedrosa, J.A.M., Balint, M., Diogo, J. B., Ilkova, J., Pestana, J.L.T. & M. Pfenninger (2016): Support for the evolutionary Speed hypothesis from intraspecific Population genetic data in the non-biting midge Chironomus riparius. – Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Müller R., Charaf S., Scherer C., Oppold A., Oehlmann J., Wagner M. (2016): Phenotypic and epigenetic effects of vinclozolin in the gastropod Physella acuta. Journal of Molluscan Studies

Oppold, A., Kreß, A., Vanden Bussche, Diogo, J.B., Kuch, U., Oehlmann, J., Vandegehuchte, M.B., Müller, R. (2015): Epigenetic alterations and decreasing insecticide sensitivity of the Asian tiger mosquito Aedes albopictus. Ecotoxicology and Environmental Safety 122, p 45-53,  doi:10.1016/j.ecoenv.2015.06.036

Dr. Axel Magdeburg
Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter
Quentin Foucault
Ph.D. Student, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

“Rapid seasonal thermal adaptation in Chironomus riparius”

Research interests

As a PhD student in the Molecular Ecology Group of Prof. Markus Pfenninger I am interested in how a multi-voltine insect species, the non-biting midge Chironomus riparius, is coping with seasonal thermal variations. The aim of this project is to investigate the possibility of a rapid seasonal temperature adaptation using a genomic approach to look for seasonal variation in allele frequencies. We use common garden experiments on natural populations, to simulate the seasonal temperature oscillation. The population genomic analyses will be complemented with life-cycle experiments in order to test for the selective fitness advantage related to this thermal adaptation.


Juliane Hartke
Ph.D. Student, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Project: Evolution, genetic basis and behavioural consequences of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles in parabiotic ants

Research interests

My PhD project focuses on the genomic basis of cuticular hydrocarbon (CHC) evolution. CHCs in insects evolved as a barrier against desiccation, though they also play an important role in chemical communication, as they for example show information about an individual’s species- and colony membership. The neotropical ant species Crematogaster levior shares a nest with its obligate parabiotic partner Camponotus femoratus. In such species associations, chemical communication via CHCs is an important factor to mediate the acceptance by the respective partner. Interestingly, in both species the CHC profile is highly variable. By studying the genomic basis of cuticular hydrocarbon evolution in C. levior, we want to gain insight into the mechanisms underlying the coevolution in these non-model organisms. In addition, we analyse the two existing chemotypes in regard to species separation and intraspecific chemical plasticity. To do so, we conduct population genetic analyses, whole genome sequencing and combine this with behavioural observations in the field.

Since 07/2016 PhD on “Evolution, genetic basis and behavioural consequences of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles in parabiotic ants” in the Molecular Ecology Group at the Biodiversity & Climate Research Centre Frankfurt

10/2014 – 06/2016  Master of Science (Biology), Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz
Study emphasis: Evolutionary biology, Evolutionary Anthropology, Paleo genetics, Population genetics

  • Master thesis: “Intraspecific variation in Temnothorax nylanderi: behavioural and dietary traits”

10/2010 – 10/2013 Bachelor of Science (Biology), Universität Osnabrück
Study emphasis: Evolutionary and behavioural ecology, Zoology

  • Bachelor thesis: “Influence of volatile and tactile communication on reproductive regulation in the lower termite Cryptotermes secundus”
Dr. Friederike Reuß
PostDoc, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Research interests/current works

I am a trained ecologist with keen interest in insects, especially disease vectors and agricultural pests. The methods I apply range from insect bioassays to monitoring and control of field populations, and include molecular DNA and RNA work as well as population modelling. With my work I wish to contribute to the scientific knowledge basis of integrated management plans and applied ecology. My current projects focus on the temperature-dependent development of spotted wing drosophila and Asian bush mosquito.

Short CV

Since 2018 Research Associate/PostDoc at SBiK-F research group ‘Molecular Ecology’
2014-2020 PhD thesis at Goethe University Frankfurt/SBiK-F research group ‘Molecular Ecology’
2012-2013 Student/research assistant at BiK-F research group ‘Evolutionary Vertebrate Genomics’
2011-2012 Master studies in Ecology and Evolution at Goethe University Frankfurt 2009-2010 Study abroad at Radboud University, Nijmegen, The Netherlands
2007-2011 Bachelor studies in Biology at Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg

Bock F, Kuch U, Pfenninger M, Müller R (2015) Standardized laboratory feeding of larval Aedes japonicus japonicus (Diptera: Culicidae). – Journal of Insect Science 15(1): 144. Doi:

Müller R, Knautz T, Vollroth S, Berger R, Kreß A, Reuss F, Groneberg DA, Kuch U (2018) Larval superiority of Culex pipiens to Aedes albopictus in a replacement series experiment: Prospects for coexistence in Germany. – Parasites & Vectors 11: 80. Doi:

Reuss F, Wieser A, Niamir A, Balint M, Kuch U, Pfenninger M (2018) Thermal experiments with the Asian bush mosquito (Aedes japonicus japonicus) (Diptera: Culicidae) and implications for its distribution in Germany. – Parasites & Vectors 11: 81. Doi:

Wieser A, Reuss F, Niamir A, Müller R, O’Hara RB*, Pfenninger M* (2019) Modelling seasonal dynamics, population stability, and pest control in Aedes japonicus japonicus (Diptera: Culicidae) – Parasites & Vectors 12: 142. *shared last authors. Doi:

Fennessy J, Bock F, Tutchings A, Brenneman R, Janke A (2013) Mitochondrial DNA analyses show that Zambia’s South Luangwa Valley giraffe (Giraffa camelopardalis thornicrofti) are genetically isolated. – African Journal of Ecology 51: 635-640. Doi:

Bock F*, Gallus S*, Janke A, Hailer F, Steck BL, Kumar V, Nilsson MA (2014) Genomic resources and genetic diversity of captive lesser kudu (Tragelaphus imberbis). – Zoo Biology 33(5): 440-445. *shared first authors. Doi:

Bock F, Fennessy J, Bidon T, Tutchings A, Marais A, Deacon F, Janke A (2014) Mitochondrial sequences reveal a clear separation between Angolan and South African giraffe along a cryptic rift valley. – BMC Evolutionary Biology 14: 219. Doi:

Fennessy J, Bidon T, Reuss F, Kumar V, Elkan P, Nilsson MA, Vamberger M, Fritz U, Janke A (2016) Multi-locus analyses reveal four giraffe species instead of one. – Current Biology 26: 1-7. Doi:

Fennessy J, Winter S, Reuss F, Kumar V, Nilsson MA, Vamberger M, Fritz U, Janke A (2016) Response to “How many giraffe species are there?” – Current Biology 27: R137-R138. Doi:

Dennis Schreiber
Ph.D. Student, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Project: Genomic traces of introgressive hybridization and its impact on local Adaptation 

Research interests
In my PhD project I focus on introgressive hybridization on the genomic level within multiple phyla. Since at least around 10% of animal and 25% of plants species are known to occasionally hybridize, studying the evolutionary consequences of introduced genetic material is mandatory (e.g. enhanced adaptation to local biotic and abiotic factors). To find genomic traces of introgressive hybridization, whole genome sequencing of two Radix, Chironomus and Felis MOTUs as well as their respective hybrids will be conducted. By comparing the impact of hybridization on the genome level of these distantly related phyla we will reveal general genomic pattern as well as differences that occur when species hybridize.

Short CV

Since 05/2017 PhD on “Genomic traces of introgressive hybridization and its impact on local adaptation” in the Molecular Ecology Group at the Senckenberg Biodiversity & Climate Research Centre Frankfurt

10/2014 – 03/2017 M.Sc. Environmental Biosciences, University of Trier, 
Study emphasis: Biodiversity and Ecology, Master thesis: “Climate Niche Differentiation in Radix balthica”

10/2010 – 03/2015 B.Sc Environmental Sciences, University of Koblenz-Landau, Campus Landau 
Bachelor thesis: “Diversity of earthworm communities in field margins: influence of the distance to the field on biodiversity”

Andreas Wieser
Ph.D. Student, Member of Research Group 'Molecular Ecology'

Research Interests

“Rapid seasonal thermal adaptation in Chironomus riparius”

During my PhD thesis I am supervised by Dr. Bob O’Hara and work closely  together with the Molecular Ecology Group of Prof. Markus Pfenninger. I am interested in how a multi-voltine insect species, the non-biting 
midge Chironomus riparius, is coping with seasonal thermal variations. The aim of this project is to investigate the possibility of a rapid seasonal temperature adaptation using a genomic approach to look for seasonal variation in allele frequencies. To complement the experimental work of my colleague Quentin Foucault, I am utilizing and expanding population genetic models in order to simulate possible trends in the dynamics of populations and allele frequencies.