We have recently hosted the first joint conference of the "Arbeitskreis Biogeographie" (VGDH) and the "Arbeitskreis Makroökologie" (GfÖ) (15-17 March 2016). Both macroecology and biogeography, besides their own nature, show a large overlap in topics, concepts and methods. The goal of the scientific meeting was to learn more about the other discipline’s scopes and to identify synergies. We had more than 50 participants from seven countries who found the meeting was a successful cometogether. The program included 26 talks and 5 posters. For more information, abstracts etc. see here. We are grateful to all participants and to all people from our own department who helped with the organization.
Poison frogs show a complex parental care behavior. Several species lay eggs on land and later transport the tadpoles on one parent's back singly to small water bodies in plants (phytotelms). For some years now, it is known that Ranitomeya variabilis from the Amazon rainforest of Peru (and maybe other species) only choose phytotelms that are unoccupied by conspecific tadpoles and sometimes by those of other species (such as commonly Hyloxalus azureiventris). First the small water bodies do not provide resources for the development of more than one larva. Second, Ranitomeya larvae are cannibals and would attack each other. In our earlier studies, carried out by Dr. Lisa M. Schulte, we showed that nurse frogs chose the right phytotelm on the basis of chemical recognition (Schulte et al., 2011, Animal Behaviour). This opened an avenue for further research questions.
We are a remarkable step further now! Combining chemical analyses with in-situ bioassays, we identified the molecular formulas of the chemical compounds triggering the nurse frog's behavior (collaboration was with the Helmholtz Centre for Environmental Research - UFZ; fundig was by the German Research Foundation - DFG). Ranitomeya variabilis and Hyloxalus azureiventris both produce distinct chemical compound combinations. This leads us to conclude that two separate communication systems are at work. In an ecological context, we classify the conspecific R. variabilis compounds as chemical cues - that is, they are only advantageous to the receiver (nurse frog), not the emitters (tadpoles). The heterospecific compounds, we suggest are chemical signals. These are advantageous to the emitters (heterospecific tadpoles) and likely also to the receivers (nurse frog). Due to these assumed receiver benefits, the heterospecific compounds are possibly synomones which are advantageous to both emitter and receiver. This is a very rare communication system between animal species, especially in vertebrates. Read more in the 1st July issue of PLoS ONE (Schulte et al. 2015).
Schulte, L.M. et al. (2015): Decoding and discrimination of chemical cues and signals: Avoidance of predation and competition during parental care behavior in sympatric poison frogs. — PLoS ONE 10: e0129929.
A novel skin-eating fungal disease discovered in Europe poses a major threat to native salamanders and newts.
Batrachochytrium salamandrivorans (Bs) was discovered only in 2013 by researchers investigating a remarkable decline in Fire salamander populations in the Netherlands.
New research, involving a global screening of more than 5,000 amphibians (under the lead of An Martel and Frank Pasmans from Gent University, Belgium, involving members from our group), now suggests that the new disease presents a serious threat to many species. Bs is very dangerous to most salamanders and newts, but not to frogs, toads and the snake-like amphibians called caecilians. The fungus was also found in newts from Thailand, Vietnam and Japan as early as 1894, without causing disease, suggesting Bs originates from Southeast Asia. Read more in a press release by Trier University (in German) or watch our movie (in German).
Apparently, Bs has arrived in Europe only recently — so far the disease has only been found in the Netherlands and Belgium, but it is likely to reach other European countries soon. In 2014, our group has started a Bs and salamander / newt population monitoring and research program in the area in Germany close to the Belgian and Dutch outbreaks. This will be continued into 2015 and on.
Martel, A. et al. (2014): Recent introduction of a chytrid fungus endangers Western Palearctic salamanders. — Science, 346: 630-631.
Advocating this statement, members of our group have contributed to an important and widely acknowledged policy piece published under the interdisciplinary graduate school 'Cooperation of Science and Jurisprudence in Improving Development and Use of Standards for Environmental Protection – Strategies for Risk Assessment and Management’ at Trier University, funded by the German Science Foundation DFG (GRK 1319). Read more (in German).
Our group has contributed to a book on the status of amphibians and reptiles under climate change at the national scale. This work, published by the Biodiversität und Klima Forschungszentrum (BiK-F) and Climate Service Center (CSC), was honored as the book of the month in January by the 'Deutsche Bundesstiftung Umwelt', DBU. Read press release by Trier University (in German).
Mosbrugger, V. et al. (2012): Klimawandel und Biodiversität. Folgen für Deutschland. — Darmstadt: WBG, 432 p.
On 24 September, Stefan Lötters will be speaking at the 105th annual meeting of the 'Deutsche Zoologische Gesellschaft' (DZG) in Konstanz on "Ecological niches in Amazonian amphibians: linking macroecology and evolution", following a kind invitation by the 'Fachgruppe Ökologie'.
Our molecular phylogeny on the critically endangered harlequin frogs (Atelopus) published in the journal Systematics and Biodiversity No 9 / 2011, was awarded the 'outstanding paper of the year' by the publisher.
Lötters, S. et al. (2011): Assessing the molecular phylogeny of a near extinct group of vertebrates: the Neotropical harlequin frogs (Bufonidae; Atelopus). — Systematics and Biodiversity, 9: 45-57.
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