Molecular Archeology: 1200-Year-Old DNA Sequences From Madagascar Lead to the Discovery of an Extinct Tortoise
Genetic analyses reveal the lost world of giant tortoises in the western Indian Ocean

An international research team led by Senckenberg scientist Uwe Fritz has succeeded in sequencing the genetic material of up to 1200-year-old tortoise finds from the western Indian Ocean. This led to the discovery of a tortoise species from Madagascar that went extinct in the Middle Ages and reached a carapace length of half a meter. Eight giant tortoise species lived on Madagascar and its adjacent islands, all of which were extirpated except for one species on Aldabra, according to the study now published in the prestigious journal “Science Advances.”

Extraordinary flight artists
Hummingbird’s hovering flight likely evolved because of a lost gene

Hummingbirds, native to North and South America, are among the smallest and most agile birds in the world. Often barely larger than a thumb, they are the only bird species that can fly not only forwards, but also backwards or sideways. Their characteristic hovering flight makes that possible. However, hovering is extremely energy-demanding. In a genomic study published in the journal Science, an international team of scientists led by Prof. Michael Hiller at the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE-TBG) in Frankfurt investigated the evolutionary adaptations of the metabolism that may have enabled the hummingbirds’ unique flying abilities.

Genetic data from the Altai 7,500 years ago indicate high mobility of ancient hunter-gatherers

An international team lead by researchers from the University of Tübingen, Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment in Tübingen and Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig have identified a previously unknown hunter-gatherer population in the Altai some 7,500 years ago which illustrates the high mobility between populations in Siberia and elsewhere in North Asia. Professor of Archaeo- and Palaeogenetics Cosimo Posth in Tübingen headed the genetic research and analysis team which found that the Neolithic hunter-gatherer population from the Altai was a mixture of two distinct groups that had previously lived in Siberia during the last Ice Age. Furthermore, the Altai hunter-gatherer group contributed genetically to many contemporaneous and subsequent populations across North Asia, showing how great the mobility of those foraging communities was. The study has been published in Current Biology.


Nature’s Future Pharmacy in Peril
Medicinal plants could secure the medical supply of humankind – and to this end, they must be comprehensively studied and protected, argues a team of scientists

In the renowned journal “The Lancet Planetary Health,” a group of scientists advocates systematic and transdisciplinary research into medicinal plants in order to sustainably exploit their potential for global health care. Together with other researchers, Dr. Spyros Theodoridis from the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt and Prof. David Nogués Bravo from the Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate at the University of Copenhagen highlight the opportunities that scientific and technical progress opens up for understanding the ecological functions of plant bioactive compounds and their use in medicine. At the same time, in their Personal View they point out the dangers posed for this important natural resource by the climate and biodiversity crisis, in particular.  


Tiny Diversity: New Species of Microsnails Discovered
The number of snail species in Southeast Asia is expected to be five times higher

International researchers, including Senckenberg scientist and last author Dr. Adrienne Jochum, have described 42 new sibling species of the world’s smallest terrestrial snail Angustopila psammion from various caves in Southeast Asia. During their extensive work, the team discovered five times as many species as they would have expected. This shows that the number and diversity of gastropods in the study areas are likely many times higher than previously thought. The study is published today in the scientific journal “ZooKeys.”

Evolution in Absolute Darkness: New Fish Species Discovered in India
The new catfish species was discovered with the help of the local population

An Indian-German team of researchers, including Senckenberg scientist Dr. Ralf Britz, has studied the catfish genus Horaglanis in the southern Indian state of Kerala. The tiny members of this genus, only about three centimeters in length, live in local aquifers without light. As part of a broad-based “Citizen Science” project, the researchers were able to gather information on the distribution of the animals, their genetics, and evolutionary history – and they discovered a new species based on genetic studies. The study was published in the scientific journal “Vertebrate Zoology.”

The genetic shades of the brown bear
Genomic study clarifies the diversity of brown bears across the entire species range

Brown bears are among the largest land-dwelling carnivores in the world. They are characterised by a muscular hump over their shoulders, which gives their front legs additional strength. All ten or so brown bear subspecies currently identified are distributed in North America, Europe, Russia, and Asia. They show great diversity in their shape, habitats, and behaviour. In a genomic study published in the Nature journal “Communications Biology”, an international team of researchers, including four scientists from Frankfurt am Main, investigated the genetic diversity of brown bears and how and when this variation arose. In doing so, they present the first comprehensive population genomic study of the brown bear (Ursus arctos) and use its example to show the effects of the last ice age on today’s diversity within the species.

Finding a ‘happy medium’ for the local stakeholders of rural landscapes
Study shows that many proposed land use changes could lead to conflict and the ways in which compromises could be achieved

An international research team led by Dr. Margot Neyret of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center in Frankfurt investigated how land in rural areas in Germany could be best used so that all user groups get as many benefits as possible, and equitably. The interdisciplinary study, in cooperation with the Frankfurt-based ISOE  – Institute for Social-Ecological Research, was published in the renowned journal “Nature Sustainability,” and evaluates the level of ecosystem benefits provided by different landscapes and the extent to which they meet the varying needs of the local population. By doing this, the researchers show that strategies involving comprehensive changes to landscape land use could lead to social conflicts. The study also identifies a balanced mix of forest and grassland as a formula for fair land use that benefits all groups equally.

Genomics for biodiversity conservation
Genomic analyses provide important insights for conservation management

Conserving nature’s biodiversity is one of the great challenges of our time. To develop strategies and effective measures, well-founded scientific analyses, and concrete information for the actors in nature conservation are needed. The field of biodiversity genomics can make an important contribution here: genomic data of species, species communities and entire ecosystems provide insight into characteristics, adaptive abilities, relationships and evolutionary developments. This data should always be considered in far-reaching assessments and decisions in nature conservation management – this is what an international team of scientists from Frankfurt, among other places, advocates in a new publication in the scientific journal “Trends in Genetics”.

In the Necrophagous Trap
Cretaceous amber preserves lizard carcass with necrophagous insects – ants are not among them

An international team of scientists led by Mónica Solórzano Kraemer of the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt has studied a series of excellently preserved Cretaceous amber specimens containing lizard carcasses enclosed together with carrion- eating insects. The results of their study, now published in the journal “Nature Scientific Reports,” show that the reptiles, which were preserved in an early stage of decomposition, had attracted typical necrophagous flies – but no ants. These insects, known today as the “health police of the forest,”apparently did not yet play a role as scavengers 99 million years ago.


Which mollusc will be “International Mollusc of the Year 2023”?

Starting today, five mollusc species are up for election as “International Mollusc of the Year 2023”! Anyone interested can participate in the public online voting until March 19th, 2023. This yearly competition was launched in 2020 by the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) and the International Society for Mollusc Research (Unitas Malacologica). Aims are to raise awareness of the rich diversity of molluscs, and the need to protect this. The species with the most votes will have its entire genetic information decoded.


Ice Age Survivors

With the largest dataset of prehistoric European hunter-gatherer genomes ever generated, an international research team has rewritten the genetic history of our ancestors. This study was led by researchers from the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, Peking University and the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig, in collaboration with 125 international scientists. The results were published in the journal Nature.

War in Ukraine threatens freshwater resources and water infrastructure

The ongoing war in Ukraine is having multiple impacts on the country’s water sector, according to a recent study led by the Leibniz Institute of Freshwater Ecology and Inland Fisheries (IGB) and the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research (SGN) that has been published in the journal Nature Sustainability.  In addition to the horror of the direct consequences of war, the destruction of water infrastructure also carries long-term consequences and risks for the population, the environment and global food security. 

Decline in Nutrient Load and Sea-level Rise: Winners and Losers in the Wadden Sea UNESCO World Heritage Site

A team of researchers, including Senckenberg scientists Prof. Dr. Ingrid Kröncke and Dr. Anja Singer, has detected a significant decrease in the abundance, biomass, and spatial distribution of characteristic benthic species such as snails, mussels, crabs, or worms, in the East-Frisian Wadden Sea. The team compared an extensive, current dataset from 2018 from about 500 monitoring stations with a comparable, historical dataset from the 1980s. In their study, published in the journal “Frontiers in Marine Science,” the researchers attribute the change in species composition in the East-Frisian Wadden Sea to a reduced nutrient load and the effects of a rising sea level on the benthic communities in the tidal flats.

99 Huntsman Spider Species
The number of new species described by a Senckenberg arachnologist surpasses 600

Together with researchers from China, Senckenberg spider researcher Dr. Peter Jäger has described 99 new species from the family of huntsman spiders in South, East, and Southeast Asia. As a result of the new descriptions, published in the journal “Megataxa,” the genus Pseudopoda – which was only discovered in 2000 – becomes the largest genus of huntsman spiders. The total number of new spider species discovered by the arachnologist Jäger thus increases to 614.

Caves as Archives of the Past: New Leibniz ScienceCampus in Tübingen

At its meeting yesterday, the Senate of the Leibniz Association voted in favor of establishing a new ScienceCampus in Tübingen. This will create a research network between the Senckenberg Center for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment, the University of Tübingen, and the Max Planck Institute for Biology as well as other national and international institutions. Under the heading “GeoGenomic Archaeology Campus Tübingen (GACT),” researchers from various scientific disciplines will work together at the new Campus in an innovative and integrative way. The common goal is to use ancient DNA from cave sediments to study human interaction with, and impact on, past ecosystems over time.

The Chilean Abalone is “International Mollusc of the Year 2023”

It is a large, carnivorous limpet with a heavy shell – and the “International Mollusc of the Year 2023”! The Chilean Abalone (Concholepas concholepas) received the most support in the public online voting. It was one of the five mollusc finalists in the international competition. This was the third annual competition, after its start at the end of 2020 by the Senckenberg Museum, the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) and the International Society for Mollusc Research (Unitas Malacologica) to raise awareness of the enormous biodiversity of molluscs and the threats they face.

A Year at Senckenberg: Art, City Insects, Nature, and Medicine
2023 Annual Program of the Natural History Museum Frankfurt published

Today, the Senckenberg Natural History Museum Frankfurt publishes its program for 2023: Visitors can expect special exhibitions covering Frankfurt’s insect fauna, an artistic-scientific examination of the world of plants, an artesian well in the Messel Pit, and biodiversity and its importance for us humans. An artistic look at the coral reef habitat and a new permanent exhibition space dedicated to the use of natural substances for pharmaceuticals and the production of medicines round out the offerings. Cooperations with the Schirn Kunsthalle Frankfurt, the Frankfurter Kunstverein, and the Städelschule illuminate topical focal points such as plastic pollution of the oceans, buildings as biodiversity landscapes, and the rapidly progressing loss of species. The exhibitions are accompanied by a diverse education and outreach program.

80-Million-Year-Old Rainforest
Plant fossils from Egypt offer insight into the evolutionary history of tropical rainforests

An international team of researchers led by first author Dr. Clément Coiffard of the Free University Berlin and Senckenberg scientist Prof. Dr. Dieter Uhl has taken a closer look at the evolutionary history of tropical rainforests. In their study, published today in the journal “Biogeosciences,” the researchers conclude, based on fossil flora from Egypt, that extensive areas of tropical forest comparable to today’s rainforests existed in northeastern Africa as early as the late Cretaceous period, about 80 million years ago.


The genome of the smallest baleen whale provides insight into evolution and tumor resistance

The pygmy right whale (Caperea marginata) is the smallest of all baleen whales although it can grow to six metres in length and weigh up to three tons. The species occurs circumpolar in the Antarctic waters of the Southern Hemisphere, and only a handful of sightings have been reported thus far. It is considered to be the last surviving member of an otherwise extinct branch of baleen whales and has received little to no attention from the scientific community. However, its genetic material could provide interesting information for cancer research, as a team of scientists from Frankfurt and Lund, Sweden, has now discovered. Their study on the evolution and tumor resistance of baleen whales was recently published in the journal BMC Biology.

Sophisticated gene memory

Thanks to great technological advances, the genetic material of living beings can now be sequenced at a rapid rate. Comparisons of genomes, whether of closely related or completely different species, reveal particularly interesting findings. In this way, information can be obtained on phylogenetic relationships, the formation of characteristics or on adaptive abilities. However, comparing genomic data poses tricky technical challenges. To simplify the analysis process, a team of scientists led by Prof. Michael Hiller from the Hessian LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) has developed a new method and presented it in the journal Science.


Funded Pandemic Prevention

With a duration of four years and a total sum of around 1.5 million euros, the Volkswagen Foundation is funding a new research project at the Senckenberg Museum of Natural History in Görlitz as part of its “Social Transformation” profile sector. Led by Senckenberg scientist Prof. Dr. Hjalmar Kühl, the project will involve a team of researchers from the Helmholtz Institute for One Health, Greifswald, the University of Marburg, the University Jean Lorougnon Guédé (Daloa, Ivory Coast), the Centre Suisse des Recherches Scientifiques (CSRS, Ivory Coast), and the Ecole Inter Etats des Sciences et Médecine Vétérinaires de Dakar (Senegal). 

300,000-Year-Old Snapshot: Oldest Human Footprints from Germany Found

In a study published today in the journal “Quaternary Science Reviews,” an international research team led by scientists from the University of Tübingen and the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment presents the earliest human footprints known from Germany. The tracks were discovered in the roughly 300,000-year-old Schöningen Paleolithic site complex in Lower Saxony. The footprints, presumably from Homo heidelbergensis, are surrounded by several animal tracks – collectively, they present a picture of the ecosystem at that time. The project is funded by the Ministry of Science and Culture of Lower Saxony and the University of Tübingen.

Frog With Baggage: Invasive Species Do Not Arrive Alone

In their study, published today in the journal “Microbial Ecology,” Senckenberg researchers have introduced a new invasion biology concept, the so-called “nested invasions.” Using Johnstone’s whistling frog as an example, they show that this amphibian not only colonizes foreign regions, but it also carries invasive microbiomes in its baggage. The scientists thereby provide the first comprehensive dataset for an invasive community and warn of the still unknown impact on the newly colonized ecosystems.


A fire brigade against dangerous mosquitoes

The warm season in Europe marks the beginning of the high season for mosquitoes. While they and their larvae serve as prey for many animals and thus play an important role in the ecosystem, humans find the small bloodsuckers rather annoying. Meanwhile, they can also become dangerous to us: mosquitoes from tropical and Asian regions are increasingly appearing in Central Europe. They can transmit the Zika or West Nile viruses, which trigger dangerous fever diseases. A team of scientists from the Hessian LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics and partner institutions is showing how the further spread of these mosquito species can be prevented in a targeted and environmentally friendly way.

Giessen venom researcher meets Nobel Laureates

He has received one of the coveted invitations to the 72nd Lindau Nobel Laureate Meetings from 25 to 30 June 2023: Natural products researcher Dr. Tim Lüddecke from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology (IME) and the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) in Hesse, Germany.

Miniature Snail in a Rock Sandwich

Researchers from the USA and Switzerland, including Senckenberg scientist and first author Dr. Adrienne Jochum, have described the first fossil Carychium land snails from Florida. The rock layer containing the snail fossils, which are only a few millimeters in size, was accidentally uncovered during construction work and dates from the Pleistocene period between 2.58 million and 11,700 years ago. In their study, published in the open-access journal “ZooKeys,” the scientists also describe a previously unknown carychiid fossil species.

Support for the Red List: Senckenberg Becomes Part of the IUCN Network

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species”, started in 1964, is the world’s most comprehensive source of information on the status of the world’s animal, fungi, and plant species. Now, the Senckenberg Nature Research Society is one of the official partners of the IUCN Red List – and at the same time, the first natural history museum involved in this global network. Senckenberg researchers support the IUCN Red List by actively participating in the compilation of the Red List assessments, using their broad taxonomic expertise.


Deep Sea Trench: Garbage Dump on the Sea Floor

A team of scientists from the Senckenberg Research Institute and Natural History Museum Frankfurt, the University of Basel, and the Alfred Wegener Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, has completed the most comprehensive study of (macro)plastic waste at depths of up to 9,600 meters. In their study, published in the journal “Environmental Pollution,” the researchers analyzed the amount, material, and type of plastic debris in the Pacific Kuril-Kamchatka Deep-Sea Trench. They show that most of the plastic debris originates from regional shipping routes and fisheries. The team warns that deep-sea trenches could become “garbage dumps of the seas.”

A Beetle from the Ashes

Senckenberg researcher Dr Marianna Simões, together with her colleague Dr Lukáš Sekerka of the National Museum in Prague, discovered a new species from the tortoise-beetle genus. The insect, newly described as Dorynota phoenix in the scientific journal “Zootaxa,” comes from the collections of the Brazilian National Museum in Rio de Janeiro, which were almost completely destroyed by an out-of-control fire in 2018.

Family History at the Shell Mound

Researchers from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen and the Brazilian University of São Paulo, together with an international research team led by first author Dr. Tiago Ferraz, compiled the largest genomic dataset from Brazil to demonstrate that sambaqui communities on the southern and southeastern coasts did not represent a genetically homogeneous population. The sambaquis, also known as “shell mounds,” were established about 8,000 to 1,000 years ago along a stretch of more than 3,000 kilometers on the eastern coast of South America. According to archaeological records, the sambaqui builders shared clear cultural similarities. However, contrary to what was expected, these groups of people showed significant genetic differences. In their study, published today in the journal “Nature Ecology and Evolution,” the scientists attribute this to different demographic trajectories, possibly due to regional contacts with inland groups.


The very hungry Caterpillar: 60 Million-year-old Feeding Traces

Researchers from the Hessian State Museum Darmstadt and the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Center Frankfurt have uncovered the factors that determine the enormous diversity of herbivorous insects. In their study, published today in the scientific journal “PNAS,” they show that the diversity of herbivorous insects evolved over the last 60 million years primarily through the shared use of food plants. The results are based on the analysis of feeding traces left by arthropods on more than 45,000 fossil leaves.

Sustainable support for the Common hamster

It is one of the most endangered mammal species in Western Europe: the Common hamster (Cricetus cricetus), also known as the European hamster. Once hunted intensively as an “agricultural pest” and for its multi-coloured furs, a significant decline in its population has been recorded since the 1970s. Without further research and conservation measures, the Common hamster could become completely extinct in the next twenty years, according to forecasts. Preventing this in Hesse, Germany, is the goal of the new project “MetaHamster”, which focuses primarily on genomic data and involves scientists and conservation actors from various institutions, including the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research and the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (LOEWE Centre TBG) in Frankfurt am Main. The project is funded by the State of Hesse within the framework of the Lore Steubing Institute (LSI) for Nature Conservation and Biodiversity of the Hessian Agency for Nature Conservation, Environment and Geology (HLNUG).

Carapace Size: How Turtles Developed Over The Past 200 Million Years

International researchers, including Dr. Gabriel Ferreira of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen, have compiled the most comprehensive data set to date on body sizes of recent and fossil turtles. In their study, published in the journal “Ecology and Evolution,” the team concludes that – contrary to the common assumption – the size of the shell-bearers is not related to climatic conditions. Rather, the size evolution is determined by the animals’ habits.

Everything in Flux? First Recovery, then Stagnation: The Status of Biodiversity in European Waters

Senckenberg researchers, in collaboration with a large international team, examine the state and development of invertebrate biodiversity in European inland waters in the renowned journal “Nature.” In their study, published today, they show that biodiversity in river systems from 22 European countries has increased significantly over a period from 1968 to 2020. However, the team of scientists warns that this positive trend has stagnated since 2010 and that many river systems have not been able to fully regenerate. Therefore, they call for additional measures to revive the recovery of biodiversity in inland waters – freshwater ecosystems that are and continue to be exposed to serious pressures such as pollution, invasive species, and climate change.

Various evolutionary forces shape the human skeleton

Genetic kinship analyses of human bones reach their limits if the DNA is poorly preserved or if destructive sampling is not possible. New research shows that in such cases, comparisons of the structure and shape of certain parts of the skeleton may also provide detailed information about relationships, and do so non-destructively. This is the result of a large-scale study by an international research team led by Dr. Hannes Rathmann and Professor Katerina Harvati from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment and the Institute for Archaeological Sciences at the University of Tübingen. 

Database with 2,400 prehistoric sites

The role of culture in human expansions: Large-scale collection of digital data summarizes the results of 150 years of research and can be used by amateurs and scientists alike


Date Palm Diversity

Oases are hotspots of biological and cultural diversity – for their protection and sustainable use, a new study recommends that culture and biodiversity should be considered together. A research team led by Prof. Dr. Klement Tockner, Director General of the Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung and Professor of Ecosystem Sciences at the Goethe University Frankfurt, has investigated the relationship between cultural and biological diversity for selected oases in the Sahara.


Underestimated Hazard and Resource at the Bottom of the Sea

Today, marine biologist Dr. Mona Hoppenrath from Senckenberg am Meer in Wilhelmshaven, together with international colleagues, presents the second, expanded edition of the world’s most comprehensive identification guide for marine benthic dinoflagellates: “Marine Benthic Dinoflagellates – Their Relevance for Science and Society.” In addition to describing numerous new species, for the first time also on the basis of molecular genetic data, the book categorizes the global dangers posed by the often toxic single-celled organisms – but also their benefits for science and as potential suppliers of nutrients and energy.

How Hessian researchers unveil the venomous secrets of European snakes

Not only in the tropics do snake bites lead to dangerous envenoming – bites from European venomous snakes can also cause severe physical damage. But their venom also contains active substances that could be used against bacterial pathogens in the future. Scientists from the Fraunhofer Institute for Molecular Biology and Applied Ecology IME in Giessen and the Hessian LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics are investigating the venoms of European snakes and have recently decoded the venom cocktail of the Milos viper native to Greece. Their study was published in the journal “Frontiers in Molecular Biosciences

The Agony of Choice: In Which Nature Reserves Should We Invest in the Future?

The establishment and preservation of protected areas is a key measure for achieving the goals set during the World Conference on Nature in December 2022. However, such protected areas often need to fulfill multiple objectives, such as climate protection or biodiversity conservation – which frequently leads to conflicts between different interest groups. In their study, recently published in the journal “One Earth,” Senckenberg researchers advocate for a flexible and transparent selection of protected areas as potential recipients of scarce conservation funding. A new online tool they developed enables the weighting of different conservation goals as well as the real-time comparison of results on a global scale.

A Woman’s Life Dedicated to Turtle Research

Turtle researcher Dr. Melita Vamberger of the Senckenberg Natural History Collections Dresden is featured in the newly published book “Women in Herpetology.” The volume for young adults compiles personal portraits of 50 women from 50 countries and regions who have dedicated their lives to the study of amphibians and reptiles. All proceeds from the book project will go toward a scholarship to enable students from underrepresented regions to attend international herpetological conferences.


Darwin or Kimura – Natural Selection or Pure Chance?

Some of nature’s mysteries have kept scientists busy for decades – for example, the processes which drive evolution. The question of whether certain differences between and within species are caused by natural selection or by chance processes divides evolutionary biologists even today. An international team of researchers has teased apart a scientific debate concerning the evolutionary theories of Darwin and the Japanese geneticist Kimura. Their conclusion: the debate is unnecessarily convoluted by the co-existence of different interpretations.

High Mountains, High Diversity: For How Long Have the Andes Controlled South America’s Biodiversity?

With the aid of stable hydrogen isotopes in volcanic glass, an international research team, including Senckenberg geoscientist Prof. Dr. Andreas Mulch, has studied the uplift history of the Andes Plateau. In their study, published today in the journal “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America” (PNAS), they show that individual sections of today’s biodiversity hotspot rose to their current elevation only 13 to 9 million years ago. The formation of the Andes is considered decisive for the development of biodiversity in South America.

Brazilian Rainforest 2050: Frogs or Real Estate?

Senckenberg researchers, together with a Brazilian-German team, have investigated the effects of climate change on the taxonomic and functional diversity of amphibians in the “Mata Atlântica.” The rainforest in the eastern part of South America is one of the most threatened tropical forest areas and is home to over 50 percent of the amphibian species found in Brazil. In their study, published today in the journal “Perspectives in Ecology and Conservation,” the scientists show that even a moderate climate change trend will have an enormous impact on the future diversity of amphibians – and that economic interests are putting frogs and their ilk under additional pressure.

Learning from bats: ERC Synergy Grant 2023 for Senckenberg genomicist Prof. Michael Hiller

Diseases due to infections or ageing pose major challenges to humanity worldwide, be it from a medical, health policy, economic or emotional perspective. Interdisciplinary and innovative research approaches are needed to find solutions. In a joint research project, four scientists, including Prof. Dr. Michael Hiller from the Senckenberg Society for Nature Research, want to show that nature can serve as a helpful model. Therefore, they are looking at the longevity and disease resistance of bats. The international team received an ERC Synergy Grant of around 12 million euros from the European Research Council for the “BATPROTECT” project, which will run for six years.


When hornless rhinos lived in Europe
International team analyzes fossil skulls and redefines species: relatives of today’s rhinos had no horn and died out five million years ago

Paleontologists from Tübingen have redefined a rhinoceros genus that had fallen into oblivion: Eochilotherium lived more than five million years ago and did not have a horn on its nose. Hornless rhinos were known to be ancestors of today’s species. An international research team from Germany, Greece, Bulgaria and South Africa shows in the Journal of Vertebrate Paleontology that these were more diverse than previously thought. Panagiotis Kampouridis of the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment at the University of Tübingen re-examined the fossil skulls of hornless rhinos. 

Hidden or extinct?

There are always little “treasures” to be found in museum collections – that’s what makes them so valuable for research. With today’s methods of analysis, new, detailed findings can be elicited from archives that are often centuries old. Scientists from the Natural History Museum Vienna, Austria, and the LOEWE Centre for Translational Biodiversity Genomics (TBG) in Hesse, Germany, have now analysed the genetic data of a rare and presumably already extinct species of torpedo ray. It was collected, preserved, and described during the second Austro-Hungarian deep-sea expedition in the Red Sea between 1897 and 1898 – but has never been observed again since. The new results confirm that the torpedo ray Torpedo suessii is a separate species within the genus.

Early Humans in the Paleolithic Age: More Than Just Game on the Menu

In a study published in the journal “Scientific Reports,” researchers from the Senckenberg Centre for Human Evolution and Palaeoenvironment (SHEP) at the University of Tübingen show that early humans of the Middle Paleolithic had a more varied diet than previously assumed. The analysis of a site in the Zagros Mountains in Iran reveals that around 81,000 to 45,000 years ago, the local hominins hunted ungulates as well as tortoises and carnivores. Birds may also have been on the menu.


Biodiversity below ground
New comprehensive genome data on soil invertebrates provide insights into their biodiversity and evolution

They are tiny, enormously diverse, and widespread in the soil: soil invertebrates such as springtails, horn mites, millipedes, and nematodes. These animals, which are often only visible under a microscope, fulfil important tasks in the soil ecosystem. This is why they are increasingly becoming the focus of official measures to preserve biodiversity in the soil. But what exactly are the characteristics and abilities of the individual species, which information does their genetic material reveal and how have they developed over the course of evolution? With the “MetaInvert” project, an international team of scientists is providing extensive genomic data on 232 species of these previously little-studied organisms. The information contributes significantly to the identification and knowledge of community composition and function and the discovery of evolutionary adaptations to environmental conditions.