Basic research in the field of systematics and taxonomy supplies the necessary basis for any statements regarding distribution in space and time, ecology, evolution and physiology of organisms.

It is therefore is a mandatory prerequisite for any pure and applied research. Every statement needs to be based on a correct identification and classification of the respective object. Taxonomic work needs long-term experience as well as a collection as research instrument. Accordingly the research activities in the Section of Malacology focus on taxonomy for which the section disposes of one of the world’s largest and most important malacological collections. The Section of Malacology belongs to the general research area Biodiversity and Systematics.

The main research projects are related to the major parts of the collection:

Marine Malacology

Taxonomy and biodiversity of marine molluscs of the Arabian Seas (R. Janssen)

The Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Persian Gulf and Soqotra  Island each differ significantly in the diversity of their mollusc faunas, even with respect to species composition. Based on clarified taxonomy these differences shall be explained in their ecological, oceanographical and biogeographical contexts. Work is based on  comprehensive materials collected by German research vessels (Sonne, Valdivia, Meteor) from the deep Red Sea and Gulf of Aden as well as own collections from shallower environments in the Red Sea, the Persian Gulf and of Soquotra Island.
In cooperation with M. Zuschin (Vienna) currently shallow water gastropods from Egypt are worked up taxonomically and actuo-paleontologically. Work is in progress on the Pectinidae of the deep Red Sea and Gulf of Aden (with H. Dijkstra, Amsterdam). In the frame of an Arabian-German cooperation project “Red Sea Biodiversity Survey” since 2011 several expeditions have supplied rich materials. For an international book project the “Physical and biological constraints on the deep sea benthic molluscs” of the Red Sea will be described (with M. Taviani, Bologna). Furthermore a large collection from Soqotra Island is under scrutiny.

Deepwater molluscs, in particular those of chemosynthetic habitats (R. Janssen).

Since its discovery in the 1960s chemosynthetic  communities are in the particular focus of marine research. Material collected by various German expeditions is deposited and worked up in the Senckenberg Research Institute. Several new species of bivalves of the families Mytilidae and Vesicomyidae have already been described (e.g. Cosel & Janssen 2008, Krylova & Janssen 2007). As new material arrives further studies will follow.

Historical collections of marine organisms – a window into the beginnings of Global Change in the North and Baltic Seas.

In the frame of the project MARSAMM, supported by BMBF, currently the holdings of molluscs from the North and Baltic Seas are worked up and entered in the resp. database. The focus is on the exhaustive ethanol preserved material collected by research cruises into the area. The cruises were conducted on a regular basis since the 1970ies by Prof. M. TÜRKAY.

MARSAMM website and database


Terrestrial Malacology

Taxonomy and evolution of the Clausiliidae (H. Nordsieck)

The main subject of research, the door snails (Clausiliidae), are one of the best-known families of pulmonate land snails. They are relatively frequent in natural biotopes (wood and rocky areas) and are available for examination in collections by a high number of samples and individuals. The clausiliid collection of the Senckenberg Forschungsinstitut and Naturmuseum Frankfurt is one of the most important in the world; because of  its wealth of types it is an unique comparison collection. 
The clausiliids are rich in morphological characters, in those of the shell,  because they have a complex closing apparatus, and those of the genitalia, because they are simultaneous hermaphrodites. They exhibit a high diversity on species level (about 1300 living species known) as well as on higher taxonomic level  (currently 9 subfamilies).
The research concerns extant European and extra-European groups (East Asia, South America) and fossil groups.
In the extant European groups diversity and evolution of the groups are in the focus of investigation. Of special interest are the groups of South Europe, rock-dwelling snails, which exhibit a high diversity on species level. This diversity is increased once more in certain groups by alternative types of closing apparatus, different coiling of the shell and interspecific hybridization.
In the extra-European groups the taxonomic work is still in the foreground. It is of special importance for conservation planning because many species are characteristic for natural biotopes.
In the fossil clausiliids, which occur mainly in the Tertiary and Quaternary, the shell rich in characters makes possible a certain classification of the species within higher taxonomic units. In general the species have a great biostratigraphical importance. From faunal changes of fossil clausiliids climate changes can be inferred. By an analysis of their characters the judgement on the character states (plesio/apomorphic) of extant groups can be tested.

Recent research projects are:

  1. Interspecific hybridization in the genus Alopia;
  2. Subspecies concepts in South European clausiliids;
  3. Clausiliid faunas of the Plio-Pleistocene of central Europe.

Terrestrial malacofauna of the East Mediterranean region and Arabia (Dr. E. Neubert)

The following project is related to the important collection of freshwater mussels (funded by DFG 2012-2015):

Digitalisation and taxonomic revision of the Unionida (Mollusca: Bivalvia) collection of the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt a. M. (K.-O. Nagel)

The collection of freshwater mussels (Unionida) of the Senckenberg Research Institute Frankfurt a. M. is one of the most important of its kind worldwide. Among other things  it contains very comprehensive material of European freshwater mussels from nearly all  river systems, dating back to the first half of the 19th century, as well as many type and voucher specimens. This part of the malacology collection is a world-renowned data archive and it is frequently utilised as a research tool by international experts. At present, however, the arrangement of the collection follows an outdated systematic scheme, important parts of its content need a taxonomic revision (among others the palearctic Anodontinae), important new entries are still not integrated and above all a digital inventory of the collection (approx. 13,000 lots) is missing. All this complicates and hinders the use of the collection for varied topical questions, e.g. taxonomy, biodiversity, nature conservation and changes of distribution areas due to ecological or climate factors. 
The project will improve the collection’s accessibility and utilization by a thorough taxonomic revision and update of identifications as well as a digital inventory of at least the European material. The Naiad Lot of the Month (NLoM)

Tertiary Molluscs

Oligocene and Miocene molluscs of the North Sea Basin (R. Janssen)

Besides taxonomic work on selected genera the mollusc fauna of the Oligocene and Miocene of the North Sea Basin is worked up. This is mainly done in the form of critical taxonomic revisory catalogues in order to supply a basis for further work such as e.g. biostratigraphical applications. This work is based on the comprehensive evaluation of all relevant literature, large collections, and the examination and photographic documentation of available type material. Currently the revisions of late Oligocene Pyramidellidae and Pectinidae as well as of Miocene Turridae are a prioritary. A revision of the Early Miocene fauna of  Klintinghoved (Denmark) is going on in cooperation with Danish colleagues.

Taxonomy, evolution and biostratigraphy of marine molluscs from the European Tertiary (R. Janssen)

Molluscs still play an important role in regional biostratigraphy and reconstruction of paleogeographic  relations of Tertiary basins. However, knowledge of these faunas is often based on outdated monographs and the uncritical use of traditional identifications. Also evolutionary relations of many species have not yet been examined. It is evident that many identifications and conclusions as to stratigraphical and geographical distributions drawn from these identifications do not stand up to a critical revision. The treatment of such material usually focusses on local faunas or selected horizons. Instead, a taxonomic treatment of systematic entities across regional and stratigraphical boundaries will open new perspectives on systematic and evolutionary relationships as well as on stratigrapical ranges and geographical distributions. In particular cases even relationships to extant species from the European or West African regions may show up. Comparisons of fossil and Recent distribution patterns allow conclusions about temperature tolerance and climatically induced range shifts. For this kind of analysis comprehensive comparative material from all Tertiary basins as well as recent samples are needed. By its nature this research topic dealing with regionally and stratigraphically different and diverse faunas is very time consuming and can only be carried on as a long-term project. At present Vetigastropoda, Turridae and taxodont bivalves are of main interest.