Issue 62, May 2015
bullet Biodiversity
bullet The Sabah Rhino Project
bullet anymals+plants - Citizen Science Platform for Biodiversity Data
bullet Interview with Prof. Dr. Katrin B?hning-Gaese, Executive Director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre
bullet Innovation: The Varroa Gate - Protecting Honeybees
bullet Ethiopia's Wild Coffee Forests in the Kafa Biosphere Reserve

The rapid decline of biodiversity - or biological variety of life on earth - is of great concern. According to a World Wildlife Fund (WWF) report last year, 52 percent of the planet's biodiversity was lost between 1974 and 2010. Within that same time period, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife and 39 percent of marine wildlife disappeared whereas the human population nearly doubled.

This staggering demise is largely attributable to human activity. The clearing of forests, plowing of grasslands, and pollution of waters in addition to the overhunting of lands and overfishing of oceans have all contributed to habitat and biosphere destruction, transformation, and degradation.


From mangroves and old-growth forests to coral reefs and the deep sea, the earth's diverse natural habitats contain a wealth of vital resources and secrets. This value exists both in terms of ecosystem goods and services. Ecosystem goods are natural products ranging from the genes or parts of an organism to an entire organism itself. Many medicinal and health products, such as analgesics, antibiotics, and remedies for heart conditions, are of plant, fungi, or animal origin. Ecosystem services, on the other hand, offer direct or indirect benefits, such as pollination, natural pest control, carbon storage and climate regulation, erosion control, and pollution processing.

For years, German research organizations, such as the Leibniz Association, have been paving the way in biodiversity research. The Leibniz Network on Biodiversity - a Leibniz Research Alliance of 22 institutions - is one example of these efforts. With its diverse research institutes, natural history museums, and research collections, the Leibniz Association has been heavily involved in training junior researchers in the field of taxonomy, advising policymakers about biodiversity goals, and developing conservation programs and protected areas.    


Sabah, the Malaysian federal state on the island of Borneo, is internationally renowned as one of the world's most important biodiversity hotspots. Sabah's large animals - such as the Sabah rhino, the Borneo pygmy elephant, and the orangutan - are under serious threat and face extinction. The Sabah rhinoceros (Dicerorhinus sumatrensis harrissonii), a subspecies of the Sumatran rhino, is the smallest and most endangered rhino species on our planet after the Northern white rhino in Africa. The Sumatran rhino once appeared all over Borneo; today, less than 10 individuals remain in Sabah and Kalimantan, the Indonesian state on the island.

Massive hunting and intensive agricultural development over the past century have led to the rhino's decline. Currently, reproductive problems are the main threat to the population, preventing successful breeding between the few remaining Sabah rhinos. The Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW), Leipzig Zoo, Borneo Rhino Alliance (BORA), and state government of Sabah, represented by the Sabah Wildlife Department (SWD), have therefore combined international expertise and resources in order to save the Sabah rhino from extinction. They have agreed to cooperate by developing, improving, and implementing strategies in the fields of wildlife conservation research, wildlife veterinary medicine, and zoo management science. These efforts include an intensive breeding program supported by a specialist team of wildlife veterinarians that is led by Prof. Dr. Thomas Hildebrandt from the IZW.

The Rhino and Forest Fund, a German NGO, is also cooperating in this project by helping to raise funds to restore the vanishing habitat of the rhinos. The various German partners are closely collaborating with dan pearlman, a German brand and marketing agency, which is responsible for informing the wider public about the Sabah Rhino Project. The German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has financed key components of this cooperation, which includes the development of new methods to improve breeding success of the Sabah rhino. 

Source & Image: ? Kretzschmar IZW


Have you ever seen the golden toad? You never will. It's extinct. In 1987, 1,500 of these toads were counted by a scientist in the Monteverde Cloud Forest in Costa Rica. Two years later, only two golden toads were spotted in their endemic habitat. No sightings have been reported since. 

Unlike diamonds or gold, living treasures can disappear forever in the blink of an eye - without ever being noticed by the majority of the world's population. This loss of biodiversity not only underlines a well-known and widespread environmental crisis, but more fundamentally, a value crisis. As Oscar Wilde stated back in 1891, "Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing."

One goal of the anymals+plants project - a citizen science platform for free and open access to biodiversity data - is to raise people's awareness of the diversity of our environment, its fragility, and value. By using the anymals+plants mobile app and geolocation capabilities of your smartphone, you can access information on all species that have been recorded in your current area in recent decades. In some locations, you will be astonished by the vast abundance of species. Elsewhere, your list might be almost empty - an indication that this region is not yet being monitored well.

anymals+plants is connected to the world's largest fauna and flora observation database - the Global Biodiversity Information Facility (GBIF), which is home to over 500 million records. If you spot and recognize a species, the app allows you to quickly report your sighting by attaching a picture as proof and in so doing, making a small but valuable contribution to global wildlife conservation efforts.

As environmental awareness continues to grow, the need for project-specific wildlife conservation apps and platforms is increasing. In response to growing demand, anymals+plants is evolving from a simple smartphone application into a large-scale, nonprofit provider offering project starters a free customized app and website crafted to fit the specific needs the project may have in mind.

Source: Thomas Uher, anymals+plants




From research on movement patterns of trumpeter hornbills in South Africa to field projects on seed dispersal in Madagascar, Prof. Dr. B?hning-Gaese conducts exciting biodiversity research around the world. She currently serves as W3 Professor and Executive Director of the Senckenberg Biodiversity and Climate Research Centre (BiK-F) in Frankfurt, Germany. 

In her interview with GCRI, Prof. Dr. B?hning-Gaese discusses why biodiversity research and protection are so important as well as provides a few examples of projects and studies that she is currently working on with her team. She also elaborates on the extent that human land use impacts the biodiversity of ecosystems and how ongoing changes will affect the lives of future generations. Finally, she describes how she foresees biodiversity research changing in the years ahead. To read the full interview, click here.

Since 2000, Prof. Dr. B?hning-Gaese has also served as Research Associate of the National Museums of Kenya. Previously, from 2001 to 2010, she was a C3 Professor of Ecology at the Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz and from 1999 to 2001, Research Associate in the Department for Zoology and Animal Physiology at RWTH Aachen University. She completed her Habilitation in Zoology at the University of T?bingen in 1999, postdoc at the former Max Planck Institute for Behavioral Physiology (now Max Planck Institute for Ornithology) in 1996, and Ph.D. at the University of T?bingen in 1993.

Her research interests in macroecology, community ecology, and conservation biology have led her on international research adventures around the globe - from Tanzania and Uganda to England and the U.S. Recognized for excellence in research, Prof. Dr. B?hning-Gaese has received the prestigious Heisenberg award as well as more than three million euros in third-party funding.

Image: ? Senckenberg    


In recent years, news headlines worldwide have been lamenting the decline of honeybees. One of the major factors affecting beehive health and, as a result, the honeybees' decline, is the varroa mite. This tiny arachnid and ecto-parasite can wipe out entire bee colonies by transmitting dangerous bacteria and viruses to the beehive. 

The varroa mite, Varroa destructor, is able to spread diseases, like ticks, by feeding on the blood (haemolymph) of its hosts and can invade nearby beehives by fastening onto forager bees and this allows them to be transported directly inside the beehive. Once inside the beehive, the varroa mite infests a brood cell and lays eggs. The offspring infects the bee pupae and young bees, and can impair their vitality.

To fight the varroa mite, scientists at Bayer in partnership with Prof. Nikolaus Koeniger and Dr. Gudrun Koeniger from Martin Luther University Halle-Wittenberg in Germany have developed the Varroa Gate - an innovative approach to acaricide delivery which helps protect beehives against the varroa mite.

"The acaricide is embedded in a device that operates as the hive doorway - the Varroa Gate. As the bee moves through the Varroa Gate, the active ingredient is applied to the bee's legs and hair," says Dr. Klemens Krieger, parasitologist, Bayer Animal Health. "This application protects the bees against the varroa mite and with each gateway passing, the ingredients balance concentration levels to help provide effective protection at a level never more than necessary." The Varroa Gate is applied in late summer and autumn after honey extraction, when brood activity of the bees declines and the varroa mite burden affects beehives most.

To learn more about the Western honey bee's biggest enemy, watch this video. For more on the topic, explore Bayer's bee health magazine BEENOW, website, Facebook and Twitter pages, and YouTube channel.

Source & Image: ? Bayer HealthCare Animal Health


Source: Bianca Schlegel, the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU)

The early morning offers one of nature's genuine spectacles: when the clouds are slowly rising above the mountains, bit by bit, revealing a phenomenal view of the lush green forests of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve. This area of southwestern Ethiopia surprises many visitors, Ethiopians and foreigners alike, with its immense green landscapes and rich myriad of flora and fauna.

Not everyone may know, however, that Ethiopia has some of the highest levels of biodiversity in the world. The country's last remaining highland forests have been identified as particularly valuable key ecosystems, which have declined in size dramatically over the past few decades. The cloud forests of the Kafa Biosphere Reserve, recognized by UNESCO in 2010, are not only home to one of the country's last natural forest regions and rich species diversity, but is also considered to be the center of origin of the wild Coffea arabica and its genetic diversity. Around 90 percent of coffee consumed globally is Arabica coffee.

Although most people outside Ethiopia are unaware of the abundance of wild coffee trees in the country's highland rainforests, the Kafa Biosphere Reserve alone is home to 5,000 different types of coffee plants. Studies have shown, however, that these habitats are being threatened by the dwindling size of the montane rainforests, overexploitation, and climate change. Wild Coffea Arabica, in particular, is proven to be especially sensitive to a changing climate.

Since 2006, the German-based NGO Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) has supported the preservation of this area of origin of Arabica coffee through a public-private partnership (PPP) with its partners Deutsche Stiftung Weltbev?lkerung (DSW), Deutsche Gesellschaft f?r Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), GEO, and Original Food. Funded through the International Climate Initiative of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), NABU?s ongoing work aims to conserve and restore the afromontane cloud forests and wetlands in order to preserve their ecosystem resilience and unique biodiversity.

For more information, click here.

Image: ? Bruno D'Amicis 


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