When the past catches up on you: Land-use impacts biodiversity in the long-term
Ghosts of land use past haunt the current biodiversity in farmland ecosystems according to a new study led by a researcher from the German Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. The study on farmlands in South-Western France shows that changes from grassland to cropland that happened as long as 20 years ago result in the animal community on-site today exhibiting a lower diversity of mobility and feeding related traits, which are related to the functioning of agricultural ecosystems.

Potential to adapt is revealed by evolutionary genomics
Genome allows faster prediction of winners and losers of climate change

Presenting a new research approach, scientists of the Senckenberg and the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics hope to make faster and more reliable predictions regarding animal and plant species’ responses to global climate change. According to the researchers, reading the respective species’ genome can tell all the necessary information. Combined with ecological data, the results are especially relevant for conservation. The team therefore advocates initially concentrating on species that play a particularly important role in their respective ecosystem. The study has just been published in the scientific journal “Evolution Letters”.


Deep-Sea Critter Named after Metallica
A deep-sea scientist pays homage to his teenage heros by naming a previously unknown and metal-inhabiting species from the deep after them

Senckenberg researcher Dr. Torben Riehl and his colleague Dr. Bart De Smet from Ghent University in Belgium have named a previously unknown species of deep-sea crustacean in honor of the band Metallica. The deep-sea scientist from Frankfurt suggested the name to pay tribute to his rock idols. At the same time, the researchers want to raise awareness. This creature has been discovered in the abyss of the northern Pacific while conducting environmental baseline studies as part of a broader environmental impact assessment for a potential future nodule extraction project. The study is being published today in the scientific journal “PeerJ”.


Eat, Prey, Love: Gila-Monster, Zwergboas und Waldkrokodile am urzeitlichen Messel-See
Vortrag am 18.3. bei Senckenberg

Der urzeitliche Messel-See ist für die Überlieferung seiner außerordentlichen Fossilien weltweit bekannt. Das Klima war damals – vor etwa 48 Millionen Jahren – viel wärmer und ausgeglichener als heute, und es wimmelte vor seltsamen kaltblütigen Kreaturen. Forschungsergebnisse der letzten Jahre haben viel Licht auf die Lebensweise dieser Kriechtiere geworfen – einen Einblick bietet der öffentliche Abendvortrag am 18.3., der im Rahmen des 25jährigen Jubiläums „Welterbestätte Grube Messel“ stattfindet.

Fossil Snake with Infrared Vision
Early evolution of snakes in the Messel Pit examined

Together with his Argentinian colleague Agustín Scanferla, Senckenberg scientist Krister Smith studied the early evolution of snakes in the Messel Pit. In its study, recently published in the scientific journal “Diversity,” the team was able to show that around 48 million years ago, the ecosystem of the modern-day UNESCO World Heritage Site was home to a wide diversity of snakes. According to their results, a species of snake previously known as Palaeopython fischeri – named after former German foreign minister Joschka Fischer – actually belongs to the genus Eoconstrictor and was able to generate an infrared image of its surroundings.

Defaunation in rainforests could have more severe consequences for ecosystems than previously reported

A new study by Senckenberg researchers finds that ecosystem services provided by animals in Neotropical rainforests can be notably compromised even if only a small fraction of large-bodied animal species is lost. This is the conclusion the researchers draw from a simulation of how ecological networks between plants and frugivorous birds might develop in the future and what effects this would have on the ecosystem. The authors of the study recently published in ‘Nature Communications’ warn against underestimating the effects of downsizing in animal communities.


Switch of Partners in Lichens is Predictable

Lichens, a symbiosis between a fungi and alga or cyanobacteria, have colonized almost every corner of the earth. One of the secret to these composite organisms’ success is their ability to replace one of their partners. In ‘Proceedings of the Royal Society B,’ a team of Senckenberg researchers currently presents the results of a study on the lichen genus Umbilicaria that will allow scientists to predict when this partner turnover will occur. Temperature plays a decisive role in this regard. The researchers hope to use the results to improve their predictions of how symbioses, including the lichens, deal with global climate change.

Shell Puzzle: An Additional Piece Added to the Evolution of Turtles
Link between skull and neck evolution in turtles clarified

The origin of turtles is among the most debated topics in evolutionary biology. In a recently published study in the journal “Nature Scientific Reports,” Senckenberg scientist Ingmar Werneburg, in cooperation with an international research team, refutes existing hypotheses and sheds a new light on the evolution of the skull architecture. The results indicate a close link between skull evolution and the highly flexible neck of these armored reptiles.

Mata Mata Turtle: A New Species Discovered
The conservation status of this bizarre armored reptile must be reassessed

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientist Uwe Fritz described a new species of mata mata turtle based on genetic analyses. Until now, it had been assumed that the genus Chelus only contained a single species. The new description also necessitates a reassessment of the conservation status of these species, which are frequently sold in the illegal animal trade. The study was recently published in the scientific journal “Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution.”


Climate Change: Aquatic Insect Numbers Down by 81 Percent
A long-term, high-resolution study reveals obvious changes in streams

Together with his colleague Viktor Baranov of the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and a team of additional researchers, Senckenberg scientist Peter Haase studied changes in the composition of the insect fauna in a German stream. Over a period of 42 years, samples were taken at least once a week from the Breitenbach stream, located in a nature reserve in the State of Hesse. The data show that the number of aquatic insects decreased by 81.6 percent, while the species diversity showed a slight increase. In their study, published today in the scientific journal “Conservation Biology,” the team of scientists reveals that this development can be traced back to the global climate change.

Cave Bear: A Vegetarian Carnivore
Scientists provide evidence of an exclusively vegetarian diet in the extinct European cave bear

Together with an international team, scientists of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen found evidence that the extinct European cave bear had an exclusively vegetarian diet. Previous research suggested that these large bears in modern-day Romania partly subsisted on meat and fish as well. In their study, recently published in the nature journal “Scientific Reports,” the team of researchers was able to refute this assumption with the aid of a new analytical method.

When the Atlantic met the Alps: West Winds Have Determined Central European Climate for 14.5 Million Years

German researchers have investigated the mid-Miocene Climatic Optimum in Central Europe between 17 and 14 million years ago. This warming period was followed by a global cooling, which took place much faster and more dramatically on land than in the ocean, the team reported recently in the Nature Group’s journal “Scientific Reports.” At the same time, a precipitation pattern established in Central Europe that is similar to the current pattern. This indicates that the westerly-dominated wind system, which is influenced primarily by the North Atlantic, has been established as one of the primary driving forces of the Central European climate from that time on, and thus three million years earlier than previously reported.

Madagascar Copals Turn Out to be Resin
Findings do not have a paleontological, but a recent value

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientist Mónica Solórzano Kraemer examined the age and origin of the “Madagascar copal.” In their study, published today in the scientific journal “PLOS ONE,” the researchers conclude that the petrified resin has an age of no more than a few hundred years and is therefore of no paleontological relevance. However, the resins may be used to document the current species loss on the East African island.

Przewalski’s Horse: The Long Way Back into Freedom
The wild horses’ population not threatened by inbreeding

Senckenberg scientists have discovered that the population of Przewalski’s Horse is not threatened by inbreeding. Genetic analyses reveal that the wild horses reintroduced into the wild since 1992 do not show a decreased genetic variability, despite the small breeding population. The study was recently published in the “Mongolian Journal of Biological Sciences.”


“Dead Urchin Walking” on the Ocean Floor
Severely damaged sea urchin shows astonishing resilience

Together with his colleague Christian Neumann of the Natural History Museum in Berlin, Senckenberg scientist Max Wisshak documented a sea urchin’s fight for survival on the ocean floor off Spitsbergen. In their study, recently published in the scientific journal “Polar Biology,” the researchers show that despite traumatic injuries – more than one third of its shell and several vital organs had been lost – the marine creature from the genus Strongylocentrotus continued to move along the seabed for at least 43 hours and even evaded an attack by a large crab. The case documents the sea urchins’ high potential for regeneration, which developed in the course of their evolution.

Kissing bugs also find suitable climatic conditions in Europe
Frankfurt researchers use ecological niche modelling to project the distribution of Chagas disease vectors

FRANKFURT. An infection with Chagas disease is only possible in Latin America since the insect species that spread the disease only occur there. Scientists at Goethe University and the Senckenberg Society for Natural Research have now used ecological niche models to calculate the extent to which habitats outside of the Americas may also be suitable for the bugs. The result: climatically suitable conditions can be found in southern Europe for two kissing bug species; along the coasts of Africa and Southeast Asia the conditions are suitable for yet another species. The Frankfurt scientists therefore call for careful monitoring of the current distribution of triatomine bugs. (eLife DOI: 10.7554/eLife.52072)

A spider named Greta
New species of spiders described in honour of Swedish climate activist

Senckenberg arachnologist Peter Jäger has described a new genus of spiders from Madagascar: Thunberga gen. nov. is comprised of five species of huntsman spiders. The name refers to the Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg and her commitment to tackling climate change. Thus, Jäger alerts the public about the threats to Malagasy and global biodiversity. The study was published in the journal “Zootaxa” yesterday.

“Hard Rock” in the deep sea
The road to deciphering biodiversity on the seabed is stonier than previously assumed

By means of hydroacoustic seafloor mapping Senckenberg and GEOMAR researchers have found out that the seafloor in the Atlantic Ocean is much more diverse than previously assumed. Up to now, biologists have assumed mostly monotonous sediment plains in the abyssal deep sea. In their study published today in the scientific journal “PNAS”, the scientists now show that a patchwork of rocky habitats and other hard substrates is to be expected in the Atlantic, which in some regions of this depth zone can make up 30 percent of the seabed. The diversity of habitats is expected to have direct impact on the local wildlife.


Tangled relationships: A new large-scale project studies nature’s value for humans

What do humans expect from nature; what services can nature offer; and how do humans change nature? These questions are the focus of a new research project at Mt. Kilimanjaro, which involves natural and social scientists from fifteen universities and research institutes in Germany, Switzerland, and Tanzania.

The Ups and Downs of a Mega-Lake
Hydrological studies at Lake Chew Bahir in East Africa, the “Cradle of Humankind”

Together with an international team, researchers of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen reconstructed the 20,000-year-old history of the mega-lake Chew Bahir in a remote valley in Southern Ethiopia. Led by Annett Junginger, the scientists were able to show that the lake underwent rapid water level changes in the course of its history, which had a direct impact on the local population. The study was recently published in the journal “Frontiers in Earth Science.”

Against the Trends: Local Changes in Species Diversity in Europe
Researchers analyze over 150 biodiversity time series from 21 countries

Together with an international team, Senckenberg researchers published the results of a unique compilation of 161 biodiversity time series (over 15 to 91 years) covering 6,200 marine, terrestrial, and freshwater species from 21 European countries. The scientists were able to show that local trends in biodiversity often deviate significantly from global patterns. In particular, the composition of species communities has undergone extensive changes at the local level. The study, which is published today in the journal “Nature Communications,” will have an impact on the development of effective conservation concepts.

Cats: Independent for 6,000 Years
Ancestors of the domestic cat led an opportunistic lifestyle

Together with an international team, researchers of the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen studied the feeding habits of the ancestors of present-day domestic cats. They concluded that the first cats known from Europe did not rely on humans. Instead, 6,200 to 4,300 years ago, the cats fed both on wild animals as well as rodents that were closely associated with human agriculture. The study will be published today in the scientific journal “PNAS.”

Extreme environmental conditions can lead to a massive global reshuffling of biodiversity

Biodiversity is not evenly distributed across the globe; we see the most species living in the tropics and fewer towards the North and South Pole. However, the fossil record shows a very different pattern during the period from 252 to 247 million years. In a study, published in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” Senckenberg scientist Dr. Shan Huang shows a more even distribution of biodiversity caused by extreme environmental changes of that time, coupled with a devastating mass extinction event. The study provides strong evidence that rapid climate change will have severe consequences for the global distribution of biodiversity.

A 55-Million-Year-Old Owl Skeleton
Scientists describe the most complete fossil from the early stages of owl evolution

Together with colleagues from Belgium and the USA, Senckenberg scientist Gerald Mayr described a new fossil owl species. The skeleton of Primoptynx poliotauros is the oldest fossil of an owl preserved in such a state of completeness. The discovery provides unique insights into the lifestyle of the earliest owls. Unlike modern owls, the large extinct owl presumably did not kill its prey with its beak but with its talons, similar to goshawks and eagles. The study will be published today in the “Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology.”