Documenting, protecting and using biological diversity
State of Hesse to fund LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics for another three years

Frankfurt, 19.01.2022. Biodiversity is reflected in the enormous variety of living organisms and their extremely diverse forms and functions. This complexity is the result of 3.5 billion years of evolution. Today, genomic analyses of organisms provide comprehensive and new insights into the origin and development of our environment. Thus, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) has set itself the goal of unlocking the genetic basis of biodiversity in order to use it for basic and applied research. It is also essential for the protection of biodiversity to recognise, understand and document it.



Preserved in Tree Resin: Bees Became Extinct Before They Were Discovered
Stingless bees from East Africa serve as an example of “hidden species loss”

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientist Dr. Mónica M. Solórzano Kraemer studied stingless bees from East Africa that were encased in tree resin and copal. In their study, published in the journal “The Holocene,” the researchers describe two new species and explains that they most likely became extinct prior to their discovery. The coastal forests where the bees were found are among the most threatened areas worldwide.

Wondrous molluscs

In 2021, the Great Paper Boat (Argonauta argo) was the winner – from today, five other mollusc species are competing in a public vote for the title “Mollusc of the Year 2022”. They were selected from around 50 nominations from all over the world, by a jury of scientists from the Senckenberg Natural History Museum Frankfurt, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) and the worldwide society for mollusc research (Unitas Malacolgica). For the winning species, the entire genetic information will be decoded.


Walk of life: Gazelle travels more than 18,000 kilometers
GPS records over five years reveal the nomadic movement behavior of Mongolian gazelles

Together with researchers from the Wildlife Conservation Society in Mongolia, Senckenberg scientists analyzed the data on the movement of a female gazelle. Over a period of five years, the team was able to track the animal’s nomadic movements by means of GPS collar. In total, the gazelle covered more than 18,000 kilometers across the Mongolian steppe – a distance halfway around the globe. The data provide important information for the protection of these nomadic animals. The study was published in the journal “Ecology.”

The Cuban painted snail is “Mollusc of the Year 2022”
Result of the public vote is now official

It is colourful, lives on land and reproduces with sophisticated mating rituals: the Cuban painted snail (Polymita picta). The newly crowned “Mollusc of the Year 2022” received the most votes in the international public vote and thus prevailed over four other finalists. This competition, initiated by the Senckenberg Nature Research Society, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) and the worldwide society for mollusc research (Unitas Malacologica), already attracted great interest in its first round in 2021. The call was also made this year to scientists and the public to nominate molluscs for the glory of the “Mollusc of the Year” title. From 25 February to 15 March 2022, all interested parties were invited to vote online for one of the five finalist species.

Vampires with genetic defects
Comprehensive genome analysis sheds light on nutrition and evolution of vampire bats

Vampire bats live up to their name: they feed exclusively on the blood of other vertebrates, which they hunt in the dark. But how do they cope with this unbalanced diet? Blood contains a lot of protein, but sugar and fat are largely absent. A detailed analysis of the genome of the common vampire bat now provides new insights into the evolution of dietary adaptations and other abilities of these unique animals.

Depth Drives Diversity
Biodiversity on the ocean floor is largely determined by water depth – not by temperature

In a review study published in the journal “Frontiers in Marine Science,” Senckenberg scientists investigated the composition of shallow-water and deep-sea fauna along the Northwest Pacific and the Arctic Ocean  Using 18,668 records of bottom-dwelling marine animals, they show that water depth is the main driver of species communities. Previously, water temperature was thought to be the determining factor. The researchers recommend that the differences between benthic communities should be considered when responding to future climate and environmental changes.


Dangerous plastics
Ingestion of microplastics can trigger evolutionary changes

The fact that microplastics can also trigger evolutionary changes has now been shown for the first time by an international team of scientists from the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG), the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre Frankfurt (SBiK-F) and the Estonian National Laboratory of Chemistry and Physics. Their genomic study was published in the scientific journal “Chemosphere”. According to the study, the ingestion of microplastic particles triggers an evolutionary adaptation in the freshwater non-biting midge Chironomus riparius

Youth Earth Talk – Forests for Future
An event by Förderverein Senckenberg on 29 April 2022 at the Senckenberg Research Institute in Frankfurt

The Förderverein Senckenberg invites teenagers and young adults aged 15 and older to the Youth Earth Talk on the subject of forests. The talk will be attended by the recipient of this year’s Senckenberg Prize for Nature Research, Prof. Alexandre Antonelli, Scientific Director of the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew, London, and the winner of this year’s Senckenberg Prize for Nature Engagement, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, founder of Tompkins Conservation. In addition, the discussion will be joined by members of the Senckenberg Youth Council as well as Prof. Dr. Andreas Mulch, Director of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum, and Dr. Christof Schenck, Managing Director of the Frankfurt Zoological Society. Topics are the future of our forests, the fight against climate change, and why climate and biodiversity must be considered as a single entity. And the final question concerns the contribution each individual person can make toward the preservation of nature and our forests.

INVITATION to a Press Conference Senckenberg Night and award ceremony of the Senckenberg Prize to evolutionary biologist Prof. Alexandre Antonelli and Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, environmentalist and founder of Tompkins Conservation

This year’s Senckenberg Night is held under the motto “World of Forests.” For more than a decade, the charity gala hosted by the Förderverein Senckenberg has offered an entertaining interplay between award ceremony, culinary delights, and interesting trivia right inside Frankfurt’s Natural History Museum. The highlight of the evening, hosted by Terra X presenter Dirk Steffens, is the presentation of the Senckenberg Prizes for Nature Research and for Commitment to Nature. This year’s “Senckenberg Prize for Nature Research” will be awarded to evolutionary biologist Prof. Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew. The “Senckenberg Prize for Commitment to Nature” goes to the environmentalist Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, founder of Tompkins Conservation and former CEO of the Patagonia apparel company.

Senckenberg Prize 2022: The World of Forests

Tomorrow, the Senckenberg Prize for outstanding achievements in nature research and for special personal commitment to the protection and conservation of our nature will be awarded for the sixth time as part of Senckenberg Night. The Senckenberg Prize for Nature Research will be presented to evolutionary biologist Prof. Alexandre Antonelli, Director of Science at the Royal Botanic Gardens Kew (UK). The Senckenberg Prize for Commitment to Nature goes to the environmentalist and former CEO of the Patagonia apparel company, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins.


Aha?! Science Lab

Reach inside a shark’s mouth, examine a raccoon up close, or look a flea in the eye? All that will be possible as of June 25 in the “Aha? Science Lab” at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum in Frankfurt. In experimentally designed new rooms, inquisitive adults and children from the age of eight can actively get in touch with scientists, work on collection items, and solve problems on their own. Nature research thrives on the excitement of gaining a better understanding of the world, piece by piece. Driven by their curiosity, scientists are constantly working on new research questions, and natural history museums present and discuss the results of this research. The “Aha? Science Lab” at the Senckenberg Natural History Museum now offers the opportunity to participate and experiment. Guided by their own interests and impulses, visitors can, among other things, measure collection objects, examine them under the microscope and draw them, discovering hidden worlds in the process.

Deliberate Torching 9,500 Years Ago

As early as 9,500 years ago, people in Europe used slash-and-burn methods to make land usable for agriculture. This is shown by environmental data generated by scientists from the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Paleoenvironment (S-HEP) at the University of Tübingen on the basis of two drill cores from the Ammer Valley. The data were then correlated with results from the Mesolithic scattered finds from Rottenburg-Siebenlinden excavated by the Baden-Wuerttemberg Landesamt für Denkmalpflege (State Office for Monument Preservation). In their study, published in the “Journal of Quaternary Science,” the scientists investigate to what extent climate or anthropogenic factors played a role in the development of the vegetation landscape of the Ammer Valley over the past 11,500 years. The researchers paid particular attention to fires used by Stone Age hunters and gatherers.

Flexible Apes: How Orangutan Mothers Communicate With Their Offspring

Together with a Swiss-German team, behavioral scientist Dr. Marlen Fröhlich from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen has studied mother-offspring interactions in orangutans. The team paid particular attention to individual differences and flexibility in the communication strategies of orangutan mothers, which they studied both in the wild and in zoos.

Berlin Declaration: For the Future of Humankind

Thirty years after the first Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro, biodiversity loss and global climate change are the greatest and most pressing challenges of the future. Nothing less than our very existence is at stake. Under the leadership of the three Leibniz Natural Research Museums, a broad alliance of renowned researchers calls on the German government in its “Berlin Declaration” published today to live up to the special responsibility of the G7 presidency in combating these “twin crises.”

Endangered but not harmed
Even intensive whaling did not rob the fin whale of its genomic diversity

Fin whales are the second largest creatures on our planet, surpassed only by blue whales. They can reach a length of around 20 metres – and require up to two tonnes of food per day. Accordingly, they release enormous amounts of nutrients – with significant effects on the ecosystems of the oceans. However, industrial whaling has significantly reduced their numbers. It was geared towards the oil of whales as raw material and was particularly intensive between 1880 and an international agreement in 1986.


Opening of the Aha?! Science Lab

A new hands-on area for research and discovery, starting on June 25, 2022 in the Senckenberg Natural History Museum 


Europe’s Most Recent Fossil Giant Tortoise Discovered

An international team of scientists, including Uwe Fritz and Christian Kehlmaier from Senckenberg, has made an astonishing discovery in the Zubbio di Cozzo San Pietro cave in Sicily, a burial site from the Copper/Bronze Age: bones of a giant tortoise. The skeletal fragments have been dated to 12,500 years ago, which is at odds with the temporal context of the other finds in the cave. Nevertheless, they are considerably younger than the previously known remains of extinct giant tortoises on the Mediterranean islands, which are at least 195,000 years old. Therefore, giant tortoises existed in Europe for much longer than previously known. The animals were contemporaries of modern humans, which may have contributed to their disappearance.

An eye on genes

Many people suffer from eye diseases, that can lead to blindness in the worst case. Eye-related diseases like cataract, glaucoma, and macular degeneration are well described, nevertheless, the underlying causative genes are frequently unknown. A team of scientists from Frankfurt and Dresden has now set out to identify some of these undiscovered genes in mammals that take over functions in the eye. They discovered 15 previously unknown eye-related genes in their large-scale genomic analysis and confirmed 14 more genes with known roles in the eye. The study is ground-breaking as it uses genome analysis to predict gene function. It lays the foundation for further research related to vision and the eye.

More Ocean Protection: New Indicators for Marine Ecosystem Protection Developed

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientists have developed new monitoring indicators for the protection of marine and coastal areas. In their study, published in the journal “Scientific Data,” they show that large gaps exist in the protection of marine ecosystems. According to the research team, the high seas, for example, have a high conservation potential for biodiversity – but there are very few protected areas here. The data are meant to ensure a representative distribution of the expansion of protected areas to 30 percent, which is currently being discussed at the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity.

Triple Crisis for Africa’s Biodiversity

PhD student Carola Martens together with other researchers from Senckenberg and South Africa’s Stellenbosch University has investigated how climate change could affect vegetation in protected areas in Africa. In their study, which was published in the journal “Conservation Biology,” the team shows where these effects may coincide with population growth and land use changes. According to their simulations, biodiversity in almost all protected areas will be threatened by at least one of these factors by the end of the 21st century.


Ziggy Stardust and the 54 Spiders

Senckenberg arachnologist Dr. Peter Jäger named a new genus from the wandering spider family in honor of the late pop musician David Bowie – on the occasion of the music legend’s 75th birthday. Within the genus Bowie gen. nov. originating in Asia, he described 54 new species of spiders and named them after Bowie’s musical work. By naming the spiders after a celebrity, the spider researcher from Frankfurt wants to draw attention to the still largely unexplored diversity and the need for protection of the eight-legged creatures. The study is published today in the journal “Zootaxa.”

When the Forest Left the Apes

An international research team around Prof. Hervé Bocherens of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and his PhD student Sophie G. Habinger has reconstructed the habitat of the ancestors of orangutans in present-day Myanmar as part of the collaborative project EVEPRIMASIA between the Universities of Tübingen, Germany, and Poitiers, France. The results of the study, recently published in the journal “Scientific Reports,” highlight the orangutans’ dependence on intact forests and the need to protect their remaining refuges and habitats.


What fossils reveal about hybridization of early humans

Many people living today have a small component of Neanderthal DNA in their genes, suggesting an important role for admixture with archaic human lineages in the evolution of our species. Paleogenetic evidence indicates that hybridization with Neanderthals and other ancient groups occurred multiple times, with our species‘ history resembling more a network or braided stream than a tree. Clearly the origin of humankind was more complex than previously thought.

Previously unknown species of dinosaur identified in south-western Germany

Paleontologists at the University of Tübingen’s Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment have discovered a hitherto unknown genus and species of dinosaur. Tuebingosaurus maierfritzorum lived about 203 to 211 million years ago in the region now known as Swabian Alb and was a herbivore. The new species displays similarities with the large long-necked dinosaurs known as sauropods, and was identified when already-known dinosaur bones were re-examined. The results have been published in Vertebrate Zoology

Back in the wetlands

From the zoo to the wild – this is the path taken by a total of 650 European pond turtles in the German-French border area between Neuburg am Rhein and Lauterbourg over the past ten years. The last group was released into their natural habitat in the Woerr bioreserve in Alsace in mid-September 2022 – to be closely monitored there in the coming years. The aim of the action is to reintroduce the species, which according to the Red List is threatened with extinction, in a restored wetland.


The Thread to the Needle: How our Ancestors Used the Native Flora

Under the aegis of the University of Oslo, an international research team has extracted and analyzed plant DNA from the sediments of the Armenian “Aghitu-3” cave. About 40,000 to 25,000 years ago, the cave was used as a shelter by humans of the Upper Paleolithic. A detailed analysis of the DNA shows that the cave’s inhabitants may have used numerous plant species for a variety of purposes, including for medicine, dye, or yarn.

Hairy Snail Discovered in 99-Million-Year-Old Amber

International researchers, including Senckenberg’s Dr. Adrienne Jochum, have discovered a new species of land snail in an approximately 99-million-year-old piece of amber. The snail’s shell features short, bristly hairs that are arranged along its margin. In their study, published in the scientific journal “Cretaceous Research,” the team, led by first author Dr. Jean-Michel Bichain of the Museum of Natural History and Ethnography in Colmar, France, concludes that the presence of hairs may have offered the mollusks a selective advantage in their evolution.


New Venomous Snakes Discovered in Colombia

Together with a South American team, Senckenberg scientist Juan Pablo Hurtado-Gómez has described two new toadheaded pitvipers. To date, hardly anything is known about these venomous snakes, which are native to Colombia. The new species descriptions were made possible by a collection from the National Institute of Health in Colombia aimed at improving the treatment of snakebites. The study, published in the journal “Vertebrate Zoology,” outlines the benefits of taxonomy for medical care, among other things.

Researching the environmental impacts of deep-seabed mining

To what extent does polymetallic nodule mining impact the ecosystem in the deep sea? This is what the MiningImpact expedition SO295 with the research vessel SONNE is investigating for the next two months in the exploration contract areas of the Clarion-Clipperton Zone in the North Pacific. During the collection of polymetallic nodules, the bio-active layer of the seabed is removed and the sediments suspended during the mining operation blanket also large areas in the vicinity. The aim of the current research cruise is to determine the extent of the environmental effects one and a half years after an industrial equipment test.

Messel Boa: Live Birth in a 47-Million-Year-Old Snake

An Argentine-German team of scientists, including Senckenberg’s Krister Smith, has discovered the world’s first fossil evidence of live birth in snakes. The fossil they examined came from the Hessian UNESCO World Heritage Site “Messel Pit.” In the study, published in the journal “The Science of Nature,” the researchers describe bones of snake embryos discovered in the mother’s body. The finding shows that viviparous snakes already existed at least 47 million years ago.

Frankfurt Declaration: Together for Biological Diversity

One week before the start of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the Convention of Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) in Montreal, an alliance of German science and non-governmental organizations calls for an end to economic activity against nature in its “Frankfurt Declaration”, which was published today. In their position paper, the organizations urge the German government and the European Union to ensure the success of the World Summit on Nature. At the same time, they offer concrete proposals for making a nature-friendly economy the standard. In doing so, they offer their expertise to solve the most urgent challenge facing humanity – the “twin crises” of biodiversity loss and climate change.


Appeal to Montreal: Protection for Deep-Sea Species

At the start of the 15th Conference of the Parties to the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD COP15) in Montreal, Senckenberg scientists, together with international researchers, call for prioritizing the protection of deep-sea ecosystems and their organisms to safeguard the health of the oceans and the well-being of humanity in their “Policy Brief” published today. According to the position paper, it is critical to improve the state of knowledge on the biodiversity of deep-sea species in order to effectively protect them and the associated ecosystem processes. To this end, international strategies, infrastructures, and collaborations must be developed, supported, and funded to improve deep-sea research and to protect as yet undiscovered species.

Natural products against flu viruses

Fever, cough, sore throat, and general malaise – the cold season is here, and not only corona but also influenza viruses are spreading again at a rapid pace. Influenza A and B viruses cause severe, contagious infections that can even be fatal if complications arise. The most effective protection against the ever-changing virus strains is the annual vaccination. However, if an infection occurs, only two classes of drugs are approved in most countries, including Germany. Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Giessen and the Hessian LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE TBG) see great therapeutic potential in natural substances to inhibit influenza viruses in the future. They provide new impetus in a scientific review.

Less helps more

Honeybee venom has been used in traditional medicine for centuries as an anti-inflammatory. Only its main component, melittin, has been scientifically well researched. However, with its strong effect, the natural substance can also damage healthy cells when used. A team of researchers from Frankfurt am Main and Giessen has now discovered milder melittin variants in evolutionarily older wild bee species that seem to be more usable for pharmacology.