Press archive 2019

Please understand, that we only translate press releases into english, if an international interest might be the case.



Fossil Water Flea Comes Alive
A species of cladoceran believed to be extinct has been rediscovered

In a lake in Finland, Senckenberg scientist Kay Van Damme rediscovered in collaboration with an international team a species of water flea that had long been considered extinct. While there are numerous fossil records of this cladoceran species, researchers were now able to document the first living specimens. Based on the small crustacean’s morphology, the scientists were able to describe the animal as Rhynchotalona latens, thereby revising its previous taxonomic assignation. Water fleas serve as important indicator species for modern as well as past ecosystems. The studies were recently published in the scientific journals “Hydrobiologia” and “Zootaxa.”

30,000-Year-Old Murder Solved
Earliest modern European fell victim to an act of violence

Together with international colleagues, Senckenberg scientist Katerina Harvati was able to uncover an ancient act of violence. Using the latest forensic methods, the scientific team examined the skull of a 33,000-year-old early modern human. The Paleolithic fossil came from the Romanian Cioclovina Cave and is considered one of the oldest representatives of modern Europeans. The fossil’s skull shows multiple injuries that had been interpreted as post-mortem artifacts until now. In their study – published today in the scientific journal “PLOS ONE” – Harvati and her team reveal that these fractures were caused by an act of violence and likely led to the individual’s death.

Newly Discovered: Fossil Slender-billed Albatross
Scientists describe an almost complete albatross skull from the Pliocene epoch

Senckenberg ornithologist Gerald Mayr, in conjunction with his colleague Alan Tennyson of the TePapa Museum in New Zealand, describe a previously unknown, extinct albatross species from the Pliocene. The
bird, which lived about 3 million years ago, only reached approximately 90% of the size of the smallest modern albatrosses. However, the fossil’s most remarkable trait is the unusually narrow beak, which suggests that the new species mainly fed on fish. The diet of modern albatrosses, by contrast, is dominated by squid. The fossil discovery thus indicates a higher diversity in the feeding ecology of extinct albatrosses and raises the question why the fish-eating forms ultimately went extinct. The study is published today in the scientific journal “Ibis.”


Herbivores in the Holocene – eenie, meenie, miney, mo, and you must go!
The effects of environmental changes in the Holocene on megaherbivores are being studied

An international team involving Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen has studied the effects of environmental changes in the Holocene on the megaherbivores, i.e., European bison, moose, and aurochs. The researchers concluded that the aurochs was unable to adapt to the altered conditions – the increasing spread of forests and humans – and therefore went extinct. The study was recently published in the scientific journal “Global Change Biology.”

Habitat on Fire: Newly Discovered Frog Species Under Threat
A recently described tree frog species is affected by devastating forest fires in Bolivia

In a study published in the scientific journal “Vertebrate Zoology,” Senckenberg researchers described the new frog species Dendropsophus rozenmani. The habitat of these tiny frogs from the tree frog family is limited exclusively to eastern Bolivia – a region currently affected by devastating forest fires. The study’s lead author, Martin Jansen, warns against the loss of the – still widely unknown – biodiversity in Bolivia and urges for radical changes in agricultural, trade, and environmental policies.

A Miniature Pelagornithid from the Giant Penguin fossil site
61-million-year-old fossil from New Zealand sheds new light on the evolution of an unusual group of seabirds

Together with researchers from New Zealand, Senckenberg scientist Gerald Mayr described a new pelagornithid species. With an age of 61 million years, the fossil is the oldest and also the smallest representative of this group of birds, which includes species with a wingspan of more than 5 meters. The new species, described as Protodontopteryx ruthae, was discovered at a fossil site in New Zealand and represents the oldest record of a pelagornithid bird from the Southern Hemisphere. The fossil bird was no larger than a modern gull and is one of the most basal representatives of this highly specialized avian group. Contrary to previously described pelagornithids, the new species probably did not soar over long distances and presumably fed on fish. The study appears today in the scientific journal “Papers in Palaeontology.”


On a Downward Slope: An Increase in Forest Fires Threatens Spruce and Fir Trees in Southeastern Europe

In the event of a forest fire, spruce trees and white firs burn up like torches and it takes a long time for them to grow back in burnt areas. As climate change leads to a significantly increased risk of wildfires in many areas across Europe, spruces and white firs might have a harder time regenerating in regions affected by more frequent and intense conflagrations. They could be increasingly replaced by pioneer species such as birches and alders, which benefit from an increase in fires, scientists from the German Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and the Goethe University in Frankfurt reported recently in the “European Journal of Forest Research.”

Extinct Crimean Lizard was an Italian
120-year-old specimen exposed by mitochondrial DNA

Together with a Ukrainian colleague, Senckenberg researchers examined the 120-year-old specimen of a “Crimean lizard.” Until now, these animals had been considered a species of green lizard restricted to the Crimean Peninsula. Based on the complete mitochondrial genome, the team was able to show that these reptiles actually represent a species introduced from Italy. The results emphasize the importance of historical collections. The study was published today in the “Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research.”


Researchers find ingredient for new mosquitocidal agent which is produced by cultivated edible mushroom

Tropical mosquito species such the yellow fever mosquito or the Asian tiger mosquito are potential vectors of serious tropical diseases and increasingly make themselves at home in North America and Europe. According to scientists from Senckenberg and the ETH Zurich, there soon may be a natural repellant against these mosquitoes. In the scientific journal “Applied and Environmental Microbiology” they report on the edible mushroom Agrocybe aegerita that is cultivated worldwide. The scientists were able to analyze a gene sequence in the mushroom’s genome that is used by the fungus to produce Ageritin – a new type of fungal toxin that is highly efficient against yellow fever mosquitoes.