Press archive 2023

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



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.