Entomology III


The Entomology III team conducts research into the evolution, speciation, ecological adaptation and distribution of caddisflies, moths and butterflies. We are looking to answer questions about the development of populations and species and what influence global change has on these processes. The extensive collections of Lepidoptera (butterflies and moths) with 1.2 million specimens and Trichoptera (caddisflies) with over 20,000 specimens form the basis for morphological and genetic studies. The research work is assigned to the Senckenberg research areas Biodiversity, Systematics and Evolution, Biodiversity and Environment and Biodiversity and Climate.

Taxonomy and systematics of Lepidoptera

Integrative taxonomy, systematics and faunistics of Lepidoptera

The species diversity and systematics of larger systematic units are studied in long-term projects. In this way, intensive experience and extensive knowledge of these systematic units can be accumulated and made available in summarizing publications. The results are also implemented in collection curation. In addition to classical morphological methods, DNA studies (especially of the mtDNA barcode) have been increasingly used in recent years. Important long-term research projects on Lepidoptera are:

  • Taxonomy, Systematics, Phylogenetics and Zoogeography of selected Bombyocoidea (global; W.A. Nässig)
  • Faunistic survey of the Lepidoptera of the Lesachtal, Austria (W.A. Nässig, R. Weyh)
  • Taxonomy, Systematics, Phylogenetics and Zoogeography of selected Lycaenidae (W. Eckweiler)


Evolution and diversity of Trichoptera

Integrative taxonomy and CollectOMICS of caddisflies

We combine a variety of methods to identify and describe the enormous diversity of caddisflies. Morphology, optical methods, molecular genetics and DNA analyses come together to accelerate and facilitate the process of identifying and differentiating units of biological diversity. The basis are individual-based high-throughput methods for DNA sequencing and innovative imaging technologies with the potential for automation. It is particularly important for us to gain not only taxonomic but also functional information from the wealth of insect collections in museums.

Example projects and publications:

  • Integrative Taxonomy and Hyperspectral Imaging of African Trichoptera (DFG PA1617/4-1; S. Pauls, E. Razuri-Gonzales))
  • Digital Identification Tools for the caddisfly fauna of Africa and Fennoscandia (W. Tobias & D. Tobias)
  • Larval Taxonomy and Diversity of Drusinae (FWF P 18073; FWF P 23687)

Evolution of traits and niches of caddisflies

The evolution of traits is essential for the diversification of species and their adaptation to changing environmental conditions. Accordingly, we use phylogenetic and genomic methods to study the evolution of ecologically relevant traits that allow aquatic insects to diversify ecologically. In this way, we try to better understand today’s species and ecological diversity.

Example projects and publications:

Applied and general biodiversity genomics

Genetic diversity under changing environmental conditions

Phenotypic variations and changes in these variations in populations form the basis of evolution. Using population genetics and genomic methods, we evaluate the population dynamics of species and communities based on time series data. We aim to understand how historical and ongoing environmental changes cause changes in genetic and phenotypic variation.

Example projects and publications:

  • Effects of Forest Management on Arthropod Diversity (Naturwaldreservate Hessen)
  • Effects of Climate Change on genetic diversity and population dynamics of high elevation stream communities (ERANET-LAC GLOBIOS)

Evolution of caddisfly silk

Caddisflies are often referred to as “underwater architects” because they have a unique ability: they can spin silk underwater. Caddisflies use their silk to build diverse structures such as protective cases, silken retreats, trapping nets and pupal cases with selective ionic semi-permeability. The silk acts like a double-sided, waterproof adhesive tape. It has enormous tensile strength, hardens under water but still remains elastic. These properties make silk highly interesting as a construction material or for biomedical applications. We are using comparative genomics to investigate the basic properties of caddisfly silk. The results are an important basis for future biomedical and biotechnological applications of caddisfly silk.

Example projects and publications:

Citizen science and hands-on projects

Insect portal

With the “Insekten Hessen” portal, the “Insekten Sachsen” project launched in Saxony in 2010, the Year of Biodiversity, is now also being expanded to Hesse. The project is dedicated to researching native insects, imparting knowledge and jointly closing knowledge gaps. This participatory project is aimed at all those interested in insects, who can contribute to insect research according to their abilities. All incoming reports are checked for accuracy before they are released for the public site.

Insect habitats

The loss of habitats is considered one of the main reasons for insect decline. In landscapes that are maintained by humans, often minor changes in use can already improve the habitat availability and quality insects. Open landscapes, such as meadows and pastures, are among the most species-rich native habitats. Many of the flower-visiting insects find food and suitable structures for their reproduction and development here. These habitats are not only becoming increasingly rare, but are also becoming poorer in flowers due to over-frequent mowing. By switching to partial mowing regimes, a continuous food supply is maintained and meadow insects can develop better. The hands-on project “Insekten Hessen” provides information about insect-friendly habitats, their maintenance and design.

Urban ecology

Influence of lifestyles on insects

Although land use and thus urbanization are among the main causes of species and insect decline, some species now seem to find suitable conditions in cities. While there are already many efforts to address the needs of flower-visiting insects in particular by planting and providing nesting opportunities, the dynamics of the communities and the interactions between the different habitat elements have so far been little studied. In the transdisciplinary project SLinBio, funded by the BMBF initiative FEDA, we are investigating how everyday practices such as gardening, the use of urban green spaces and road traffic affect the diversity of insects.

Accompanying entomological research on the VERD° greening system from OMC°C

In dense urban areas, the urban climate effect can lead to very high temperatures in summer, which is why the introduction of cooling urban greenery is necessary in these urban areas. The Frankfurt-based company OMC°C has developed the modular and flexible vertical greening system VERD°, which uses fast-growing climbing plants to create a high plant biomass in a small area. (OMC°C | Office for Micro Climate Cultivation (omc-c.com)). In 2023, two modules of the prototype were set up in the courtyard of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt. We want to investigate whether and to what extent the greening system is used by various insects as a habitat and food resource and thus – in addition to the microclimatic effects – can also contribute to the promotion of insects in the city.