The Globe is populated by a vast diversity of animals, plants and microorganisms which however is only incompletely understood - despite their enormous importance for numerous fields of science and society. A better understanding of the Earth's species diversity is doubtless a priority for contemporary biology. Which processes lead to the formation of species? Why have some lineages of organisms given rise to high numbers of species and ecomorphological adaptations while others have not? Which biogeographic mechanisms explain the global distribution of biodiversity? And: How many species do exist on the Globe? Estimates range from 5 to 100 million species of eukaryotes. These questions are central to the department of evolutionary biology of the Zoological Institute. Methods used are the sequencing of genes, gene fragments (RAD Sequencing) or of entire transcriptomes to reconstruct phylogenetic relationships, or fragment analyses (microsatellites) and SNPs to understand differentiation at the population level. The laboratory analyses are based on samples that we collect in biodiversity hotspots such as Madagascar, or on archipelagos such as Galapagos, and complemented by intensive field research.
In this framework, the two working groups (the Vences lab and the Ruthsatz lab) specialize on different approaches.
The Vences lab focuses on patterns of biodiversity, such as phylogenetic and phylogenomic trees, biogeographic distributions often based on GIS-modelling, communities of bacteria on the amphibian skin, or the occurrence of pheromones and skin toxins in different regions and species. These patterns are analyzed to understand key innovations influencing the rate of speciation, biogeographic colonization patterns, intrinsic and extrinsic factors acting as prevalent drivers of speciation. Much of the research took place in Madagascar. Here, in a team with Frank Glaw (Zoologische Staatssammlung München), we have described over 120 new species of amphibians. New research focuses on the amphibian skin bacterial communities, in hosts from Europe, Madagascar, and Brasil.
The Ruthsatz lab focuses on conservation physiology and ecotoxicology of ectotherms in general and amphibians in particular. We investigate how global change might affect development, energy budgets, and survival and how animals might cope with novel environments and challenges by exhibiting phenotypic plasticity or flexibility with a special interest on endocrine disruptive effects of environmental stressors such as temperature variation and pollution. While using various tools associated with conservation physiology such as measuring heart and metabolic rate, thermal tolerance and performance, acclimation capacity, body condition, stress hormone release, and OMICS technologies, our research combines multiple sub-disciplines to asses stress, health, and physiological functioning at a variety of biological scales.