Grain storage: natural substances more effective than chemical insecticides
Diatomaceous earth and fungi as an effective protective agent in grain storage

Senckenberg scientist Thomas Schmitt has investigated the effectiveness of diatomaceous earth and a parasitic fungus as grain protectants against stored-product insect pests in comparison to a chemical insecticide. Together with colleagues from Pakistan and Greece, he shows in the study, just published in the journal “Environmental Science and Pollution Research”, that when grain is stored for more than 150 days, the natural pesticides achieve the most effective results. 


For most giant tortoises, Darwin came too late

Together with an international team, the Senckenberg researchers Christian Kehlmaier and Uwe Fritz have sequenced ten nearly complete mitochondrial genomes of the extinct giant tortoise Chelonoidis alburyorum from the Bahamas. The author team, including Nancy Albury from the National Museum of The Bahamas and Richard Franz and David Steadman from the Florida Museum of Natural History, compared their data with other tortoise species. The researchers show in their article, published today in the journal “Scientific Reports,” that the tortoises from the Bahamas were closely related to the giant tortoises from Galapagos. Moreover, they found that there was only one species from the Bahamas Islands and another from the Galapagos Islands. Previously, it was believed that 15 distinct species occur on the Galapagos Islands.

New snake species and genus discovered in Myanmar

Senckenberg scientist Prof. Dr. Gunther Köhler and an international team from East Yangon University in Myanmar discovered a new species of mud snake. Morphological and genetic analyses showed that Myanophis thanlyinensis belongs to a genus so far unknown to science, the team recently reported in the journal “Zootaxa”. The genome of the holotype is already available for further research: it was sequenced as a novel digital taxonomic resource at the LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE-TBG).


When Wolves Became Dogs

Together with a group of international colleagues, a research team from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen studied the beginnings of the domestication of wolves in Europe. Using a multi-method approach, the researchers analyzed several Canidae fossils from a cave in Southwestern Germany. In their study, published today in the nature journal “Scientific Reports,” they reach the conclusion that the transition from wolves to domesticated dogs may have occurred in this region between 16,000 and 14,000 years ago.

Company for the Greta Spider

Senckenberg scientist Peter Jäger described 25 new species of spiders in the genus Thunberga, which was named after Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg. The arachnologist from Frankfurt dedicated three of the newly discovered species to persons known for their impressive activism: Jyoti Kumari, Boyan Slat, and Malala Yousafzai. The study, published today in the scientific journal “Arachnology,” provides insights into the distribution and love life of these eight-legged creatures.

Messel Fly: The Last Meal

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientist Sonja Wedmann discovered a previously unknown species of fly in the UNESCO World Heritage Site “Messel Pit.” The researchers were able to document pollen from various plant species in the abdomen of the approximately 47-million-year-old insect. This allows conclusions regarding the fly’s feeding behavior, its ecology, and its role as a pollinator in the past. The study was published today in the scientific journal “Current Biology.”

Climate change alters river flow

Water volumes in rivers worldwide have changed significantly in recent decades. An international research team including Goethe University has now been able to corroborate that climate change plays a critical role. Project coordinator was ETH Zurich.

Three fossil plants described in honor of Senckenberg’s former Director General

The new special issue of the Senckenberg journal “Palaeobiodiversity and Palaeoenvironments” published today is dedicated to Prof. Dr. Dr. h.c. Volker Mosbrugger, who recently retired after 15 years of service at Senckenberg. Three newly discovered fossils described for the first time in the publication – a flower, an alga, and a fruit – were named after the former Director General of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung.

Chirping Diversity
New field guide published on grasshopper species in East Africa

Frankfurt, 03/30/2021. The identification book “A Field Guide to Bushcrickets, Wetas and Raspy Crickets of Tanzania and Kenya” comes out in print today. The author, Senckenberg scientist Dr. Claudia Hemp, covers 270 grasshopper species from Tanzania and Kenya in this new guide. More than 1100 photos, 45 identification keys, over 60 distribution maps, and a DVD with recordings of calling songs an impressive overview of the enormous diversity of this interesting group of insects in East Africa.

Biodiversity is positively related to mental health

The higher the number of plant and bird species in a region, the healthier the people who live there. This was found by a new study published in Landscape and Urban Planning and led by the German Centre for Integrative Biodiversity Research (iDiv), the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (SBiK-F) and the Christian Albrechts University (CAU) in Kiel. The researchers found that, in particular, mental health and higher species diversity are positively related, whereas a similar relationship between plant or bird species and physical health could not be proven.


Skin deep: When mammals re-entered water

New insights in the evolution of mammals when re-entering water: The smooth, nearly hairless skin of whales and hippos look similar, but evolved independently. This is revealed by genomic and anatomical analyses partly conducted by Michael Hiller at LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics. The skin of these mammals fine-tuned for life in the water was long assumed to have come from a shared amphibious ancestor. The study published in “Current Biology” contradicts this assumption. It rather suggests that the last common ancestor was land-dwelling. Hence “aquatic” skin with specific adaptions developed more than once in mammal’s phylogeny.

Raccoons and raccoon dogs are expected to expand their ranges in Europe

The raccoon dog from Asia and the North American raccoon will likely continue to spread across Europe in the near future, scientists from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre and the Goethe University currently report in ‘Mammal Review.’ The researchers investigated in which areas in Europe the species might experience climatic conditions similar to their native ranges and therefore find a suitable habitat. The raccoon dog is considered a potential reservoir host of coronaviruses (including SARS-CoV-2); moreover, along with the raccoon, it is listed as an invasive species in the European Union.

A Snake Crosses the Alps

A research team from the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden and the Zoological State Collection in Munich has studied the occurrence of the Italian barred grass snake in Bavaria. Based on over 1000 samples, they show that the snake, which was only recently discovered in Germany, spread northward after the Ice Age. In the process, the snakes successfully crossed the Alps – which are usually considered as a pronounced natural barrier. They were only stopped when they encountered the related common grass snake in southern Bavaria. The study was published today in the “Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research.”

Transparent Fish without a Skull Roof

Senckenberg scientist Ralf Britz has joined forces with US researchers Kevin Conway and Kole Kubicek, Texas A&M, to study the evolutionary skeletal development of Danionella dracula, a tiny, transparent fish. The fish lacks several bones – including the skull roof – and at the same time possesses highly specialized organs for communication. Because of these features, Danionella is currently becoming an important model organism in neurophysiological research. The study was recently published in the journal “Developmental Dynamics,” where it is featured on the cover.


On the Brink: Brazil’s Coastal Rainforest
Amphibian and bird diversity threatened by deforestation and eucalyptus monocultures

Together with Brazilian colleagues, Senckenberg scientist Raffael Ernst investigated the impact of current land use on the bird and amphibian fauna of the Atlantic rainforest in southeastern Brazil. In their study, published in the journal “Biological Conservation,” the team shows that afforestation with eucalyptus monocultures leads to a change in species composition and favors alien species.  According to the researchers, the “critical environmental thresholds” established to date beyond which negative changes occur in the forest ecosystem are set too high.

Genome of a raccoon dog sequenced for the first time – researchers see potential for transmission of SARS-CoV-2

Frankfurt, 04.05.2021. Researchers from the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) have sequenced the genome of a raccoon dog for the first time. Genetic data support its potential to transmit SARS-CoV-2. Being native to East Asia, racoon dogs have spread widely over Europe and are currently listed in as an invasive species in Germany. Raccoon dogs are closely related to foxes and known to carry various viruses that can be transferred to humans. The study suggests that the raccoon dog could also be a reservoir host for coronaviruses. The article has been published in the scientific journal “Frontiers in Genetics”.

Giraffe genomics support four species

Frankfurt, 05.05.2021. Visually, they are hardly distinguishable, but genetic analyses show: There are four distinct species of giraffe and seven subspecies. This result was obtained by an international team led by Prof. Dr. Axel Janke from the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics. According to their comprehensive genome analyses, the four giraffe lineages have been evolving separately for thousands of years. Relationships within the genus of giraffes have been debated before. For a long time, it was assumed that there was one, then four and later three species. The study published in the scientific journal “Current Biology” provides new insights into the evolution of giraffes and relevant information for their adequate conservation in Africa.

Climate change might even drive widespread mammal species to extinction

Wide-spread land mammal species are not off the hook when it comes to negative effects of climate change, a new study by researchers from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre just published in Ecology Letters shows. The authors found that next to climatic tolerance, the size of the area where a land mammal species can be found depends on how flexible the species is with respect to its habitat. In contrast, the range of its diet is not reflected in species range size — even wide-spread species might have specialized diets. If climate change or human activities diminish their preferred resources, many wide-spread yet specialized species will be prone to extinction.


“Zombie Frog” Discovered
Three new species described from the narrow-mouthed frog family

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientists have described three new frog species from the northern Amazon region. The animals from the genus Synapturanus spend their lives buried underground and are therefore still virtually unexplored. The researchers assume that the species diversity of this genus from the family of narrow-mouthed frogs is at least six times higher than previously known. The study will be published in the journal “Zoologischer Anzeiger.”

Fossilized: 99-Million-Year-Old Birth

Together with an international team, Adrienne Jochum of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt and the Natural History Museum Bern has made an extraordinary discovery: The researchers found a fossilized female land snail enclosed in a 99-million-year-old piece of amber together with her five young. Not only does the snail represent a previously unknown species, but this is also the oldest record of a live birth in this class of animals. The study was published in the scientific journal “Gondwana Research.”

Dry Rivers
60 percent of all streams around the world dry out intermittently – with an upward trend

An international team of researchers, including Senckenberg’s Director General Klement Tockner, for the first time recorded and quantified all rivers worldwide that temporarily dry up. The scientists show that 60 percent of the world’s streams dry up for at least one day a year – across all continents and climate zones. In the study, led by Mathis Messager of McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and published today in the prestigious journal “Nature,” the researchers estimate that 52 percent of the world´s population live nearest to one of those streams – a situation that could affect far more people in the future.

Asteroid impact 66 million years ago caused brief bloom of algae and substantial ocean species’ extinction

The asteroid that likely caused dinosaur extinction 66 million years ago triggered strong global cooling and a massive bloom of algae, causing mass extinction also in marine ecosystems. This is the result of a new study from scientists of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre. The researchers simulated the ocean productivity before and after the asteroid impact – and found a brief global algal bloom peaking at a productivity seven times higher than in the pre-impact ocean. Since the algae likely produced toxins, their increase could have contributed to the extinction of species in the ocean.

Ride a heat wave or get damaged
Study on European beeches after heat waves: Researchers identified genes for drought resistance in some, but not all trees

Which trees will survive dry, very hot summers and which will suffer severe damage? Regarding European beech trees, this question may now be answered by genome analyses. A team led by Prof. Dr. Markus Pfenninger, LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics and Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre, has studied damaged and healthy beech trees in Hesse, Germany and identified areas in their genome that are responsible for drought resistance. Based on these DNA sections, it is possible to predict for each individual tree how it resists longer periods of drought. Using targeted DNA tests, resistant specimens could now be selected for forestry in order to help beech forests adapting to climate change. The study was published in the journal “eLife”.

Bird migration takes plants in the wrong direction to cope with climate change

Migratory birds carry most seeds in the wrong direction to help plants cope with climate change, new research shows. The study, published in Nature, reveals that the vast majority of plants from European woodlands are dispersed by birds migrating to warmer latitudes in the south, while far fewer are dispersed by birds migrating north. As a consequence of global warming, the optimal climatic conditions of species are moving towards cooler latitudes, forcing the redistribution of life on Earth.

Current conservation practices may be failing to protect life in the soil

Current conservation practices in farmlands may be good for species living above the earth such as birds and bees, but are probably not helping life belowground, researchers from the German Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre report in ‘Nature Communications’. They found that soil biodiversity of agricultural meadows and pastures is highest when they are surrounded by a lot of long-standing forest. In contrast, a less intensive use of the meadows and pastures themselves and diverse surroundings – which are the primary management strategies to promote agro-biodiversity – have little effect on the diversity of organisms living belowground.


Out of Africa – Across the Water
Model simulates movements of hominids via water routes

Scientists from the interdisciplinary research center “The Role of Culture in Early Expansions of Humans” (ROCEEH), funded by the Heidelberg Academy of Sciences and based at the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, modeled for the first time together with a Spanish-German team, the movements of our early ancestors under the inclusion of waterways. The model, presented in the scientific journal “PLOS ONE,” allows the configuration of behavioral scenarios that illustrate different biological and cultural stages of water crossing by hominids. It was developed in the agent-based modeling laboratory of ROCEEH in Frankfurt, Germany.

Dive Into the Coral Reef Habitat

Frankfurt, 07/14/2021. Along with tropical rainforests, coral reefs are among the most biodiverse and productive ecosystems on our planet. They cover less than 0.1 percent of the ocean floor but are home to one-third of the animal life in the oceans. This diversity of organisms, the threats to this endangered habitat, and opportunities for ecosystem recovery are brought to life in the fascinating new coral reef exhibition. Around 3,000 individuals can be discovered in a habitat display that is six meters wide, three meters long, and up to 3.3 meters high. Interviews with protagonists from Europe and the Pacific region provide insights into the living environments there and how the reef ecosystem is being handled. The new permanent exhibition was created as part of the modular conversion project “New Senckenberg Museum Frankfurt” – in cooperation with the Leibniz Center for Tropical Marine Research (ZMT) in Bremen and with Trier University of Applied Sciences.

Reliable Wolf-Dog Hybrid Detection

Together with a European team, Senckenberg scientists have presented a new method in the scientific journal “BMC Genomics” that allows the reliable identification of wolf-dog hybrids on the basis of environmental samples such as feces, hair, or saliva residue. The method has a much higher resolution than conventional methods and is expected to serve as a standard procedure in the future, allowing for comparable detection of hybridization rates across Europe.

Genome reveals that lichens can produce different climate-specific natural substances

Natural substances produced by organisms are known primarily as agents against cancer and other diseases. But they can do even more, as researchers from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center and the LOEWE Center for Translational Biodiversity Genomics now show in the journal “Environmental Microbiology.” For the first time, the team was able to show that there is a climate-specific difference in gene groups responsible for the production of natural substances in lichen-forming fungi. The natural substances presumably contribute to the lichens’ ability to adapt to different environmental conditions.

Non-native species have incurred costs of more than 116 billion Euros in Europe between 1960 and 2020

Together with an international team, Senckenberg scientists have investigated the costs incurred by invasive species in Europe and Germany. In their studies, published today in the scientific journal “NeoBiota,” they show that in European countries, non-native species caused damage in excess of 116.61 billion Euros in the period from 1960 to 2020. In Germany, the figure for the same period is an estimated 8.21 billion Euros. According to the researchers, the expenditures increased tenfold in each decade – and the actual costs are probably many times higher.


Fossil finds shed new light on the evolution of the African ratite

Together with his colleague Nikita Zelenkov from the Russian Academy of Sciences, Senckenberg scientist Gerald Mayr examined bird fossils from Central Asia that had previously been considered relatives of the cranes. The researchers now show that these birds are instead early representatives of the ostrich lineag. Until now, the early evolutionary history of ostriches was largely unknown. The reinterpretation of the fossil findings reveals that early ancestors of these birds exhibit an unexpected mosaic of traits. According to the study, published today in the journal “Ornithology,” ostriches originated in Asia – today, these large, flightless birds are exclusively restricted to Africa.

The Downfall of the European Crayfish: When Economy Triumphs Over Conservation

For the past 150 years, the European crayfish has been devastated by the crayfish plague. As an attempt to economically compensate for this decline, North American signal crayfish have been deliberately released into European rivers and streams. However, the mass mortality of native crayfish has accelerated rather than slowed down as a result. In the journal “Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution,” scientists from Senckenberg and other European research institutions explain how this could have happened, and what lessons can be learned from this. The case of the European crayfish serves as a particularly evident example of how the introduction of non-native species to replace lost populations can end up doing more harm than good.


Diversity matters: Species richness keeps ecosystems running

Increased biological diversity improves ecosystem functioning. A heterogeneous environment further promotes this positive effect of biodiversity on ecosystems. As more and more of the global land area is subject to intensive use, thereby becoming more homogeneous, this positive impact of biodiversity could be weakened researchers of Senckenberg and the University of Würzburg currently report in “Nature Ecology & Evolution.” In the large-scale study conducted on Mount Kilimanjaro, the researchers were able to demonstrate that species richness, in particular, improves the performance of ecosystems, while the species turnover along the elevational gradient plays a minor role.

Translucent with a Tiny Brain: New Fish Species Discovered in Myanmar

Together with a group of international colleagues, Senckenberg scientist Ralf Britz has described a new species of the fish genus Danionella. Due to the transparent body and lack of the skull roof, the brain is visible in the live fish. This species is therefore considered an ideal model organism for neurophysiological research. The new discovery is presented today in the journal “Scientific Reports.”


Sensitive Frogs: The Rainforest Heals More Slowly Than Previously Assumed

Berlin/Dresden, 10/13/2021. Scientists from two Leibniz institutions, the Senckenberg Natural History Collections in Dresden and the Museum of Natural History in Berlin, completed a long-term study of biodiversity in the rainforest over a period of more than twenty years. Using frog communities in the Ivory Coast region of West Africa as an example, the team was able to show that the ecosystem has still not recovered almost 50 years after deforestation. Some frog species never return to their original habitat. The study was published in the journal “Forest Ecology and Management.”


Forests on the Dinner Plate
New study summarizes the state of knowledge on the environmental impact of global agricultural trade

Senckenberg scientists have published a comprehensive review paper on the ecological impact of the global food trade in the scientific journal “One Earth.” According to the study, the ecological costs of this trade, especially for coffee, cocoa, soy, and beef, remain high. Nonetheless, the researchers call for a differentiated approach to agricultural trade that also takes into account its positive effects.

Over 50 Percent Of All Turtle Species Are Threatened

An international team of scientists from the USA, France, Australia, and Germany, including Senckenberg researcher Uwe Fritz, just published the ninth edition of the atlas “Turtles of the World.” The publication includes not only detailed descriptions of all 357 turtle species, but also information on the at-risk status of all species and a comparison of their current and original ranges. The results presented by the research group headed by the lead author Anders G.J. Rhodin (Chelonian Research Foundation and Turtle Conservancy) are alarming: About half of the world’s turtle species are threatened with extinction. The animals are particularly affected by habitat loss and excessive capture for consumption and the pet trade.

How Did We End Up With The Proper Sniffer?

Together with Japanese scientists, Ingmar Werneburg of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen provides evidence in a new study that the characteristic facial structure of mammals with their prominent noses is a comparatively new phenomenon in evolutionary terms. The highly developed sense of smell in most mammals likely also favored brain development. The study was published in the scientific journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.”

2100: Odyssey in the Deep Sea

Senckenberg scientists from Frankfurt and Müncheberg, together with a US-American colleague, have modeled the future distribution patterns of marine crustaceans for the years 2050 and 2100. In their study, published in the journal “Climatic Change,” they conclude that animals living in water depths above 500 meters will move northward as a result of climate change. In contrast, crustaceans found at depths below 500 meters will spread southward in the future. To this end, the team analyzed data from 94 crustacean species assuming two possible scenarios from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report – an increase in global mean ocean temperature by either one or by 4.8 degrees Celsius by 2100. The study is part of the “Beneficial” project regarding the biogeography of the Northwest Pacific fauna. The baseline study will help to estimate the extent of invasions of non-native species to the Arctic Ocean under the rapid global climate change.


Newly Discovered: A Cave Snail With Spiky Teeth

Together with researchers from Switzerland and Spain, Adrienne Jochum from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum in Frankfurt and the Natural History Museum and University in Bern discovered a new genus and species of snail. The mollusks, which are only a few millimeters in size, live in caves in northern Spain and have unusual, forked teeth. In their study, published in the journal “Organisms Diversity & Evolution,” the team also described for the first time a sexually mature female of this group.