News Article | April 26, 2017
For dancing bears, doing the twist is all about leaving a lasting impression. Wild brown bears have huge overlapping ranges and are solitary, so they could do with a reliable long-distance messaging service. Their solution: scent-marking their footprints for others to sniff. Thanks to chemical signalling, mammals can be informed about things such as identity, sex, social status and reproductive state. “It appears a very important way to exchange information, which is still poorly understood,” says Agnieszka Sergiel at the Institute of Nature Conservation in Krakow, Poland. Her team first carried out an examination of skin samples from two brown bears, one captive and one wild, finding that they are able to secrete chemical signals in their paws using specialised glands. They then studied six wild bears in the northern Carpathians in Poland between 2014 and 2016, collecting and analysing scent samples from their paws. Finally, they filmed wild bears in the Cantabrian mountains in Spain, using camera traps for three years and analysing their “dancing” and sniffing behaviours. They found that bears release their scent from glands on their feet when they twist them into the ground. The scent contains at least 20 distinct compounds that probably act as sticky notes for other bears, communicating information such as gender, which can come in handy if they’re looking for a mate. An additional six compounds are exclusive to adult males, and one type, cembrenoid, is already known to act as a recognition pheromone in some other animals. They filmed at least 15 wild bears and found 81 instances of them scent-marking the ground using their paws. Males were especially fond of doing the twist, as they repeatedly retraced existing tracks. The behaviour was different to ordinary walking, and saw bears carefully step into footprints and twist their paws. Bears may use the same marked trails for years. Holes left after such repeated use are clearly visible and are sniffed frequently. Johanna Painer at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, finds the study fascinating. “Imagine you can read a scent-mark note from someone else who left this while walking by,” she says. “This may inform you about who that person was, what they look like, and if you like the person or not.” If you’re a bear, this may give you a sense of whether to try and meet those other bears or avoid them. Read more: Foxes may confuse predators by rubbing themselves in puma scent
News Article | April 19, 2017
Asian elephants are able to recognise their bodies as obstacles to success in problem-solving, further strengthening evidence of their intelligence and self-awareness, according to a new study from the University of Cambridge. CAMBRIDGE, 19-Apr-2017 — /EuropaWire/ — Self-awareness in both animals and young children is usually tested using the ‘mirror self-recognition test’ to see if they understand that the reflection in front of them is actually their own. Only a few species have so far shown themselves capable of self-recognition – great apes, dolphins, magpies and elephants. It is thought to be linked to more complex forms of perspective taking and empathy. Critics, however, have argued that this test is limited in its ability to investigate complex thoughts and understanding, and that it may be less useful in testing animals who rely less on vision than other species. One potential complement to the mirror test as a measure of self-understanding may be a test of ‘body-awareness’. This test looks at how individuals may recognise their bodies as obstacles to success in a problem-solving task. Such a task could demonstrate an individual’s understanding of its body in relation to its physical environment, which may be easier to define than the distinction between oneself and another demonstrated through success at the mirror test. To test for body-awareness in Asian elephants, Dr Josh Plotnik, visiting researcher at the University of Cambridge, visiting assistant professor of psychology at Hunter College, City University of New York and founder of conservation charity Think Elephants International, devised a new test of self-awareness together with his colleague Rachel Dale (now a PhD student at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna). The new test was adapted from one in which children were asked to push a shopping trolley, but the trolley was attached to a mat on which they were standing. In the elephant version of the test, Plotnik and Dale attached a stick to a rubber mat using a rope; the elephants were then required to walk onto the mat, pick up the stick and pass it to an experimenter standing in front of them. The researchers wanted to investigate whether elephants understood the role of their bodies as potential obstacles to success in the task by observing how and when the animals removed themselves from the mat in order to exchange the stick. In one control arm of the test, the stick was unattached to the mat, meaning the elephant could pass the stick while standing on the mat. The results of the study, which was largely funded by a Newton International Fellowship from the Royal Society awarded to Dr Plotnik, are published today in the journal Scientific Reports. “Elephants are well regarded as one of the most intelligent animals on the planet, but we still need more empirical, scientific evidence to support this belief,” says Dale. “We know, for example, that they are capable of thoughtful cooperation and empathy, and are able to recognise themselves in a mirror. These abilities are highly unusual in animals and very rare indeed in non-primates. We wanted to see if they also show ‘body-awareness’.” Plotnik and Dale found that the elephants stepped off the mat to pass the stick to the experimenter significantly more often during the test than during the control arm. Elephants stepped off the mat an average (mean) of around 42 out of 48 times during the test compared to just three times on average during the control. “This is a deceptively simple test, but its implications are quite profound,” says Dr Plotnik. “The elephants understood that their bodies were getting in the way, so they stepped aside to enable themselves to complete the task. In a similar test, this is something that young children are unable to understand until they are about two years old. “This implies that elephants may be capable of recognising themselves as separate from objects or their environment. This means that they may have a level of self-understanding, coupled with their passing of the mirror test, which is quite rare in the animal kingdom.” Species that have demonstrated a capacity for self-recognition in the mirror test all show varying levels of cooperative problem-solving, perspective taking and empathy, suggesting that ‘self-awareness’ may relate to effective cooperative-living in socially intelligent animals. A more developed self-understanding of how an individual relates to those around may underlie more complex forms of empathic perspective taking. It may also underlie how an individual targets help towards others in need. Both aspect are seen in studies of human children. Both self-awareness as demonstrated by the mirror test and body-awareness as demonstrated by the current study help scientists better understand how an animal’s understanding of self and of its place in the environment may impact social decision-making in the wild. Plotnik argues that studies such as this are important for helping increase our understanding of and appreciation for the behaviour and intelligence of animals. He also says that understanding elephant behaviour has important implications for the development of human/elephant conflict mitigation strategies in places like Thailand and India, where humans and elephants are competing for land. Only through careful consideration of both human and elephant needs can long-term solutions be sustainable. “The more we can understand about elephants’ behaviour, the more we can understand what their needs are, how they think and the strains they face in their social relationships,” he says. “This will help us if we are going to try to come up with viable long term solutions to the problems that these animals face in the wild, especially those that bring them into regular conflict with humans.” Reference Dale, R, and Plotnik, JM. Elephants know when their bodies are obstacles to success in a novel transfer task. Scientific Reports; 12 April 2017; DOI: 10.1038/srep46309
News Article | March 14, 2016
Hibernating animals don't always have it easy. Instead of spending the whole winter in energy-saving mode, they need to start up their body functions at irregular intervals and rewarm, all of which accounts for 80 percent of the total energy they expend over the winter season. Why they do this is a mystery, but scientists do know that the quantity of unsaturated fats in their diet is a contributory factor. A team working with Sylvain Giroud at the Research Institute of Wildlife Ecology in the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna is now investigating how the animals deal with too much or too few unsaturated fats. By doing so, they hope to be able to solve the mystery of their winter rewarming. The studies planned for the garden dormice – rodents from the dormouse family – are based on a working hypothesis, as Giroud explains: "Unsaturated fatty acids are important building blocks for cell membranes. We assume that they influence the effects of low temperatures on the functioning of a membrane-bound protein in the heart muscle." This protein – called SERCA2A – regulates the calcium balance in the heart muscle cells, which is vitally important in maintaining cardiac function. As Giroud continues to explain: "At low temperatures, less of this protein is produced – but it continues to be degraded. This leads to a situation where, over time, increasingly less SERCA2A is available and the heart's ability to function could be curtailed." According to Giroud, therefore, the rewarming phases could serve to create conditions in the body that allow new SERCA2A to be produced and thereby safeguard cardiac function again. If the team's hypothesis is correct, and unsaturated fatty acids effectively stabilise SERCA2A and prevent its degradation, then a higher fatty acid content in the animals' diet would have to enable longer periods of hibernation. This is exactly what the team will investigate in the coming months. To accomplish this, Giroud's team will provide several groups of garden dormice with various dietary situations, which will differ with regard to the quantity of unsaturated fatty acids (specifically linoleic acid). According to their working hypothesis, this should lead to hibernation periods of varying lengths. Giroud adds: "Initially, we expect of course that an optimum level of linoleic acid will lead to considerably fewer rewarming phases than in the group that is not allowed to absorb enough of this unsaturated fatty acid. If our hypothesis is correct, these animals that have the optimum diet will be able to stabilise SERCA2A in the cell membrane and maintain cardiac function at an optimum level, even at low body temperatures." Too much of a good thing However, scientists already know that an excess of linoleic acid can also lead to more frequent interruptions of winter hibernation. Another aspect of Giroud's work therefore deals with analysing these effects in greater detail. "We surmise that oxidative stress is caused here by the breaking down of an excess of unsaturated fatty acids. This can have a negative effect on SERCA2A activity and thus force the animals – just as in the case of a deficiency of unsaturated fatty acids – to experience more frequent rewarming phases during which new SERCA2A needs to be produced." Yet it is precisely during these rewarming phases that the harmful by-products of oxidative stress would increase and thereby accelerate cell damage and ageing processes in the animals. The results of the project will show whether this is actually the case. The various analyses conducted within the framework of the FWF project will make an important contribution to resolving one of the biggest mysteries in physiology: although the winter hibernation cycles of many animals are very well documented, little is known about the physiological processes that lead to hibernation. Explore further: And the beat goes on: The reliable heartbeat of hibernators
News Article | February 21, 2017
STAT5 controls maturation and division of blood cells. During the development of blood cells it is activated by tyrosine phosphorylation and can switch certain genes on or off. This activation is in healthy cells transient, but STAT5-dependent tumor cells produce a continuous signal resulting in long-term phosphorylation. This changes, among other things, the pattern of genes controlled by STAT5 and the cells begin to divide uncontrollably resulting in a STAT5-dependent leukemia. To live every cell needs not only energy, but also building materials. Complex metabolic processes provide cells with the necessary building blocks to grow and then divide. In a healthy cell, an equilibrium of metabolic processes is established, in which most sugar is completely "burned" into carbon dioxide for energy production. In cancer cells this balance is shifted. Sugar is no longer completely oxidized for energy production, but intermediates are increasingly used for growth and rapid cell division. The sugar molecule UDP-GlcNAc serves as an indicator for the energy supply of the cell. If the cell is well supplied with nutrients, this molecule is abundant and signals to the cell that the tank is full. A specific enzyme (OGT) can attach this sugar molecule to a variety of proteins as a marker, thus controlling metabolic processes. "We are investigating STAT5, which can be marked with GlcNAc at a specific site (T92). By means of genetic engineering we have produced a variant of STAT5, which cannot carry this chemical group to decipher its influence on this oncogene. This variant is, so to speak, blind to the indicator and simulates the state of an empty tank ", explains the first author Patricia Freund from the Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics of Vetmeduni Vienna. The researchers have now discovered that the STAT5 variant is not persistently tyrosine-phosphorylated without GlcNAc labeling. Thus, the sustained activation which is necessary for a transformation of cells into cancer cells is lacking. "If the tank is empty, the cell cannot divide," explains Moriggl. The signals of a good supply of nutrients, ie a high concentration of UDP-GlcNAc, are a precondition that oncogenic signals reach the cell nucleus via STAT5. "So we can turn off STAT5 if we trick it into believing the cell's nutrient supply is exhausted. We together with our collaboration partners will now perform experiments to explore whether this principle might have therapeutic potential," emphasizes Moriggl the translational aspects of his research. This research was carried out with financial support by the private Melanoma Donation in Liechtenstein and was partly funded by the FWF through SFB-F28 „Jak-Stat Signalling: from Basics to Disease" and SFB-F47 "Myeloid Neoplasia". The article "O-GlcNAcylation of STAT5 controls tyrosine phosphorylation and oncogenic transcription in STAT5-dependent malignancies" by P Freund, M A Kerenyi, M Hager, T Wagner, B Wingelhofer, H T T Pham, M Elabd , X Han , P Valent, F Gouilleux, V Sexl, O H Krämer, B Groner and R Moriggl was published in Leukemia. The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www. Patricia Freund Institute for Animal Breeding and Genetics Unit for Functional Cancer Genomics T +43 1 25077-5639 email@example.com
News Article | December 7, 2016
The urine of house mice, unlike humans, contains large amounts of proteins, which are mainly major urinary proteins or MUPs. These proteins function to stabilize the release of volatile pheromones from urinary scent marks. MUP genes occur in a large cluster in mice, and there are 21 different MUP genes, whereas humans have only one MUP gene, which is no longer functional. Until now, researchers have assumed that MUP genes in wild populations of mice were highly variable, and that MUP proteins provide a unique individual signature or 'barcode' that mediates individual and kin recognition. Studies to confirm this critical assumption have nevertheless been lacking. Researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna now analysed the MUP genes in the respective cluster as well as the proteins. Their findings directly challenge the MUP barcode hypothesis. "We are interested in the genetic bases of chemical communication and kin recognition. We have been focusing on MUPs because they have are often claimed to provide the genetic basis of kin recognition and inbreeding avoidance, explains Dustin Penn from Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology at Vetmeduni Vienna. The barcode hypothesis presumes that MUP genes and proteins are highly variable in wild populations, and that individuals produce their own unique and stable combination of MUP proteins. Penn's team and proteomic specialists at Vetmeduni Vienna now provide evidence that directly challenge this hypothesis for the first time. The team started by analysing the MUP gene cluster of wild house mice by direct DNA sequencing. Rather than finding highly variable sequences, they discovered that individuals show no variation at MUP genes whatsoever. Moreover, they found unusually low genetic variation through the entire MUP cluster. "We initially wondered how natural selection could maintain high levels of variation of MUP genes, but now we have to explain the remarkable lack of variation. Because of the high sequence similarity or homology of different MUP genes, we were sceptical that they could simultaneously show high variability among individuals", says Penn. The team additionally discovered that conventional gel-based techniques do not separate different MUP proteins, which posed a difficult technical challenge for measuring the regulation of different proteins. Proteins had to be analysed with new, state-of-the-art mass spectroscopy instead. Using this gel-free method they found that individuals show almost no variation in the number of MUP proteins expressed. The assumption that MUPs provide a stable individual barcode was also refuted by Penn and his collaborators. The new proteomic methods made it possible to identify the different MUPs expressed in individual urine samples over time. "Our results show that mice change the MUPs they produce depending upon a social context. The number of MUPs in the urine of male house mice is surprisingly dynamic. Future experiments are now needed to determine genetic basis for kin recognition and why males differentially regulate MUPs depending upon the social and reproductive contexts", says Penn. The article "Diversity of major urinary proteins (MUPs) in wild house mice" by Michaela Thoß, Viktoria Enk, Hans Yu, Ingrid Miller, Kenneth C. Luzynski, Boglarka Balint, Steve Smith, Ebrahim Razzazi-Fazeli and Dustin J. Penn was published in Scientific Reports. http://www. The article "Regulation of highly homologous major urinary proteins in house mice quantified with label-free methods" by Michaela Thoß, Christian Baumann, Kenneth C. Luzynski, Ebrahim Razzazi-Fazeli and Dustin J. Penn was published in Molecular Biosystems. http://pubs. The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.
News Article | November 28, 2016
The shortening of telomeres in cells was thought to be an important biomarker for lifespan and aging. The edible dormouse (Glis glis), a small hibernating rodent, now turns everything upside down. In contrast to humans and other animals, telomere length in the edible dormouse significantly increases in the second half of its life, as researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna found out just recently. The study was published in Scientific Reports. "As far as I know, no previous study has reported such an effect of age on telomere lengthening," says Franz Hoelzl, one of the authors. Apparently, this unique pattern is due to the peculiar life history of this species. They can reach maximum lifespan of 13 years, which is a Methuselah-like age for a small rodent. "This extreme lifespan is almost certainly related to their ability to rejuvenate telomeres", says Hoelzl. Telomeres are the endcaps of chromosomes, which prevent, together with proteins, the degradation of coding DNA sequences. Telomeres in small animals shorten fast, but in edible dormice they even grow In normal somatic cells, telomeres are shortened with every cell division. Besides, oxidative stress has a strong effect on telomere erosion. However, the rate of telomere shortening differs between species. For instance, it has been shown before that telomeres in fast-aging, short-lived wild animals erode more rapidly than in slow-aging, long-lived species. Earlier this year, the author Franz Hoelzl and his colleagues from Vetmeduni Vienna showed that edible dormice has the capability to re-elongated its telomeres, given that food availability is high. This finding raised the question about the long-term balance between telomere attrition and repair. To find an answer, the team started a long-tem study on changes in telomere length. In the Vienna Woods in Austria they regularly checked 130 nest-boxes that are occupied by free-living dormice. The researchers collected the rodent's buccal mucosa for three years. Thus, they could extract the DNA and determine the relative telomere length for each dormouse individually using qPCR. With this method scientists can define the amount of target DNA compared to a reference gene of the same sample. Elongation does not only occur, it even increases in older edible dormice "We found out that the telomeres were shortened in young animals but length significantly increased once the dormice were six years old or older. To top it all, the rate of telomere elongation also increased with increasing age of the dormice", says Franz Hoelzl. Among the variables tested, only age significantly affected RTL in a non-linear pattern with telomere length decreasing in younger and increasing in older dormice. Hoelz says, "Telomere length was not affected by time of the year, sex, body mass or reproductive activity at the time of sampling." Nevertheless, the analysis of long term reproduction-data of the same population shows that the probability to reproduce also increases with age. This finding could indicate that telomere elongation is actually part of the preparation for upcoming reproductive events, as gestation and lactation could increase oxidative stress and the animals may attempt to protect their genome. Service: The article "Telomeres are elongated in older individuals in a hibernating rodent, the edible dormouse (Glis glis)" by Franz Hoelzl, Steve Smith, Jessica S. Cornils, Denise Aydinonat, Claudia Bieber and Thomas Ruf will be published embargoed in Scientific Reports (Nature Publishing Group) today, 24th of November. Embargo ends at 11:00am CET. About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.
News Article | November 22, 2016
Birds share their nests with a rich community of other inhabitants like parasites and mainly invertebrates, such as insects, that are attracted to the nest because of the stable climatic conditions for their larvae as well as the rich supply of food. With the exception of parasites, no study to date has examined the role of insects in this community. As they use faeces and food remains as a source of food, their presence could have a positive effect on the development of nestlings among birds like the European bee-eater (Merops apiaster), which completely lack any nest sanitation behaviour. The richly coloured bee-eaters practice absolutely no nest sanitation. The birds dig small nesting tunnels in steep banks or cliffs with a nest chamber at the end. From egg-laying to fledging of the offspring, a considerable amount of food remains, faeces and skin particles accumulate on the chamber floor. The birds do not remove these residues themselves, which could threaten the health of the offspring, the so-called nestlings. "Faces and food remains may stimulate the production of gases that change the composition of the air in the nesting cave. This could result in an increased risk of illness and weaker young," explains study director Herbert Hoi from the Vetmeduni Vienna's Konrad Lorenz Institute of Ethology. Using Fannia spp. fly larvae, he examined whether the waste-foraging co-inhabitants of bee-eater nests contribute to nest sanitation with a positive effect on nestling development. Fannia spp. fly larvae are present in great numbers, undetected by the birds, on the floor of the bee-eater's nest chamber. For their experiment, Hoi and his team added additional larvae to the nesting cave of one group of European bee-eaters and reduced the number of larvae in another. Two further groups served as control groups for how nestlings develop without any change in larvae numbers. Soil samples were taken from the floor of the nests and the nestlings were examined at regular intervals and at the end of the experiment. The team documented important developmental indicators such as weight and size, searched for signs of inflammation and compared the oxygen saturation of the blood. The analysis of these parameters confirmed a positive effect from the presence of the "waste removers". The presence of more fly larvae correlated to heavier and larger nestlings in comparison to the control groups. A lower number of larvae in the nest had a negative effect on nestling development. These were comparatively smaller and weighed less than all other nestlings. The oxygen saturation and inflammation values were nearly the same for all groups. The experiment with the fly larvae clearly showed that at least some nest inhabitants represent a benefit for the birds. Birds like the bee-eater, which lack any sanitation behaviour, benefit from the presence of insect larvae that clean the nest well enough to allow the offspring to develop normally. Hoi sees the positive role of the fly larvae as an example of a functioning community among the inhabitants of bird nests. "Many birds do not practice nest sanitation behaviour. This may also have to do with the fact that they do not want to call the attention of predators to the nest through the presence of waste," the researcher explains. "But if the insect larvae didn't take care of the waste, this would be a great disadvantage for the health of the nestlings." More than 100 animal species have been found living in the nests of bee-eaters. Hoi wants to use such nest communities for future research. "They present a perfect model for small ecosystems." The article „Housekeeping by lodgers: the importance of bird nest fauna on offspring condition" by Jan Kristof?k, Alzbeta Darolova, Christine Hoi and Herbert Hoi was published in Journal of Ornithology. http://link. The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.
News Article | November 4, 2016
The comfort and wellbeing of the animals is an important consideration when dairy cows are kept in barns. The freedom afforded by loose housing systems such as freestall cubicle barns promotes the natural behaviour and health of the animals. The widespread switch from tie-stall housing to loose housing has seen a change in the type of claw lesions, but the frequency of claw disorders has been on the rise. Wood chips and sawdust instead of straw International studies have identified the compost bedded barn as the beneficial for claw health. Compost bedded barns use wood chips or sawdust as bedding instead of straw. The wood residue binds the excrement and daily aerating incorporates the manure and starts the composting process. This makes an even concrete floor important in the roaming area. Slatted flooring, in which manure and urine fall into a separate area beneath the floor, should only be installed in the feed alley. Fresh bedding should also be added daily following aeration. A team of researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna, led by Johann Burgstaller from the Clinical Unit of Ruminant Medicine, has for the first time compared the frequency of claw disorders and lameness in compost bedded barns and the more common freestall cubicle barns in Austria. The researchers investigated the frequency and severity of claw lesions in five compost bedded barns and five freestall barns. "Lesions of low severity were categorized as grade 1, severe lesions as grade 3. The results for the individual lesions were weighted and subsequently added together to calculate an index value for the claw health per barn," Burgstaller explains. "A high value indicates poor claw health; a low value indicates good claw health. This value, however, is also influenced by factors such as frequency of care, feeding and genetics." Compost bedding reduces the number of cases of claw lesions The compost bedded barns exhibited about one half the number claw disorders, such as foot rot or white line disease, as the freestall barns. Both the frequency and severity were lower. Lesions of grades 2 and 3 were seen only rarely. The compost bedding thus has a proven beneficial effect on claw health. Lameness, on the other hand, occurred at nearly the same frequency in both barn types. At about 18 percent, however, the average of the freestall and compost bedded barns was below the international and previous Austrian level of 25 percent. Even if modern barn types give dairy cows more freedom to roam, the animals must still stand in manure and urine for longer periods of time. The excrement increases the floor humidity and has negative consequences for claw health. The result are claw lesions, such as foot rot or white line disease. "Floor humidity softens the skin between the claws, which makes it susceptible to bacterial infections. The reduced horn quality can lead to lesions and, in serious cases, sole haemorrhages," Burgstaller explains. White line disease occurs when floor humidity attacks the sensitive junction between the sole and the wall of the claw. Sudden or rotating movements create pressure on the affected junction and the sole slowly separates from the wall. This type of claw disorder is one of the main causes of lameness. Compost bedded barns that are aerated and refilled daily can counter claw damage over the long term. This requires more work and effort on the part of the farmers. But after one year of composting, they can use the bedding as fertilizer. According to Burgstaller, the situation for dairy cows living in freestall barns can also be improved with more frequent re-bedding to keep the area dry. The main difference between the compost bedded barn and the freestall barn is that the former has just one large area for roaming. "There are no cubicles. This is more in keeping with the pronounced social behaviour of cattle," Burgstaller explains. A dairy herd is organized hierarchically. If a cow is forced to leave its place for an animal of a higher rank, it can get up quickly and move out of the way without any obstacles. The stable and nonslip surface also allows weaker animals to get up or lie down safely, which is an enormous advantage in cases of milk fever. Service: The article "Claw health and prevalence of lameness in cows from compost bedded and cubicle freestall dairy barns in Austria" by J. Burgstaller, J. Raith, S. Kuchling, V. Mandl, A. Hund and J. Kofler was published in The Veterinary Journal. http://www. About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.
News Article | February 28, 2017
In general, male poison frogs of the species Allobates femoralis are observed as very caring and attentive fathers. Eva Ringler and her team were able to show that territorial males care for all clutches inside their territory, even if they had not fertilised a single clutch in the previous weeks. The current study showed, however, that they quickly stop their child-friendly behaviour when they succeed in taking over a new territory. In this case, the dedicated fathers became cannibals. They ate all the clutches in the new territory. Cannibalism and infanticide are not uncommon in the animal kingdom. Among others, feline predators, primates, insects, fish and birds show these kind of behaviours. Eating unrelated offspring is often sexually motivated. In species with female parental care, mothers usually become ready to mate more quickly without offspring. Thereby, the perpetrators actually "kill two birds with one stone": on one hand, they reduce the reproductive success of other rivals - on the other hand, they increase their chances of future mating success. In poison frogs, we find a completely different situation. Here, males are the ones responsible for parental care. Thus, infanticide by males does certainly not serve to manipulate females, but rather to reduce the risk of costly parental care towards unrelated offspring. Thereby, it seems that males' parental and cannibalistic behaviours are mediated by a single simple trigger. In both cases - care and cannibalism - the territory, in particular the territorial behaviour, of male frogs, is the crucial factor. Inside their own territory which is prominently and vigorously defended, it doesn't cross the male frogs' minds that one of the clutches might not be their own. That is why they will transport all tadpoles that are located inside their territory to suitable water bodies, as soon as they are ready-to-go. However, if they take over the territory of rival, male poison frogs become cannibals and take advantage in several respects. First, they completely clear the territory from their rivals that do not only lose their territories but also their offspring. Eating up all clutches of their precursor also means that the male frogs can be sure that all future clutches contain exclusively their own offspring. Furthermore, clutches are very nutritious and probably constitute a valuable source of energy. Ringler and her team - starting from a field observation in the species' natural habitat - were able to experimentally test this behaviour in the lab, where they let a group of male Allobates femoralis effectively take over new territory by transferring them into a novel terrarium. A second group stayed in their original terrarium. In both cases, the researchers put unrelated clutches into their terrariums. The males in the "takeover" group became cannibals and preyed on the unrelated clutches, whereas the males in the 'resident' group spared the unrelated eggs and even transported them to the available water sites in most of the cases. According to Ringler, the behaviour in the wild is likely very effective. "In the species' natural habitat, there are regular fights for territories and also territory takeovers. We expect that cannibalism commonly occurs in such situations," explained Ringler. Furthermore, cannibalism deprives the rivals of a motive to retake this specific territory because their former offspring are lost. For Ringler, these results open up a novel perspective on cannibalism in the animal kingdom. "We have seen in poison frogs that a simple trigger is sufficient to switch from very destructive actions to parental care." In other animal species, individuals become cannibals out of sexual motivation or hunger, whereas territorial status seems to be the trigger in male poison frogs. The behaviour of male poison frogs somehow reminds, among others, of conflicts in the Middle Ages, where during conquests not only the ruler was brought down and killed but also his offspring. This was to prevent them from claiming the throne. "But there was no cannibalism," concluded Ringler. The article "Adopt, ignore, or kill? Male poison frogs adjust parental decisions according to their territorial status" by Eva Ringler, Kristina Barbara Beck, Steffen Weinlein, Ludwig Huber and Max Ringler was published in Scientific Reports. http://www. The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www. The Messerli Research Institute was founded in 2010 with support from the Messerli Foundation (Sörenberg, Switzerland) under the management of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in cooperation with the Medical University of Vienna and the University of Vienna. The research is devoted to the interaction between humans and animals, as well as its theoretical principles in animal cognition and behavior, comparative medicine and ethics. Its work is characterized by its broad interdisciplinary approach (biology, human medicine, veterinary medicine, philosophy, psychology, law) and strong international focus. http://www.
News Article | November 11, 2016
The honey bee Apis mellifera plays an important role for the pollination of fruit and vegetable plants, besides its significance for the production of honey and wax. Losses of entire bee colonies during winter have economic and -- in particular -- ecological consequences as pollinators are missing in spring during blossom. Apiculture in North America and Europe is especially affected by partly massive losses. Only during the winter months of 2014/2015, up to fifty per cent of all bee colonies in some Austrian regions collapsed. The main trigger of this bee mortality does not seem to be the use of pesticides in modern agriculture. Many studies have shown that the survival of bee colonies strongly depends on the infestation with Varroa mites, widespread blood-sucking parasites, and the transmission of deformed wing virus by these mites. A research group from the Institute of Virology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna has developed a new laboratory system, which enabled them to make an important step forward in the investigation of the virus. By using a molecular clone, they have simulated the course of disease in a targeted way under laboratory conditions. Up to now, scientists have only used samples of the deformed wing virus, which they had taken from infected bees. "However, mixed and multiple infections can bias the results of such tests", stated lead author Benjamin Lamp. For the new test system, the researchers used artificial genetic material instead of natural samples of the deformed wing virus, in order to clearly correlate the course of disease to the virus."Initially, we amplify the genetic RNA material of a virus and save it as a DNA copy in a vector, a specific transport vehicle for genetic material. The resulting molecular clone enables us to produce artificial viruses, which are identical and genetically defined," explained Lamp. Insects infected with the artificial virus showed the same symptoms such as discolouration, dwarfism, death or the eponymous deformation of the wing that also occur in natural infections. Thus, it could be unambiguously shown that these symptoms are caused by the deformed wing virus. Besides the infection with the viral RNA under controlled laboratory conditions, also an unbiased picture of the disease process could be shown. The scientists infected not only fully developed bees with the artificial genetic material of the virus, but also larvae and pupae. During the pupal stage, Lamp and his team analysed the target tissues and the host cells -- the cells the virus preferably infects. The scientists found viral antigens -- the specific protein molecules of the deformed wing virus - in all body areas. However, neural, gland and connective tissue cells were particularly affected. "The high concentrations of viral proteins -- the antigens -- in the glands could also indicate an oral transmission of the virus from one bee to another in the hive," explained Professor Till Rümenapf, last author and head of the Institute of Virology at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna. This could explain why the virus also remains present in the hives if it is not transmitted by the Varroa mite. However, no viral proteins were detected in muscle and blood cells. Various applications of the new method By using the molecular clone, different aspects of the viral lifecycle could be simulated, manipulated and studied under laboratory conditions. This concerns the transmission of the virus by the Varroa mite, the course of the infection and the viral replication in different stages of development of honey bees. Controlled experimental conditions will enable the development of new strategies in order to effectively reduce the losses of bee colonies caused by the virus. The described experiments involved only one DWV strain, but the method can also be used for other strains. "In many cases, a bee is not only infected with one virus species. Our test system provides a tool to find out, which viruses are especially harmful and how viruses behave in multiple infections," explained Lamp. "Thus, we can develop targeted strategies against disease-causing viruses." The deformed wing virus (DWV) belongs to the family of Iflaviridae. These viruses are so-called RNA viruses. Their genetic material only consists of one ribonucleotide strand, unlike the prevailing double-stranded DNA in mammals. In most but not all cases, infections with the deformed wing virus are bound to an infestation of a hive with the Varroa mite. "The virus persists in the hives and can even be detected if there are no parasites in the hive," explained Benjamin Lamp. The article "Construction and Rescue of a Molecular Clone of Deformed Wing Virus (DWV)" by Benjamin Lamp, Angelika Url, Kerstin Seitz, Jürgen Eichhorn, Christiane Riedel, Leonie Janina Sinn, Stanislav Indik, Hemma Köglberger and Till Rümenapf was published in the journal PLOS ONE. About the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna The University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna in Austria is one of the leading academic and research institutions in the field of Veterinary Sciences in Europe. About 1,300 employees and 2,300 students work on the campus in the north of Vienna which also houses five university clinics and various research sites. Outside of Vienna the university operates Teaching and Research Farms. http://www.