Research in zoology

The research conducted at the museum mainly deals with biodiversity, i.e. taxonomy, faunistics, biogeography and natural history, based on field sampling and/or collections. The focus of most studies is on identifying species and describing and analyzing animal assemblages or communities (biocenoses).

One research focus of the zoological section (Invertebrata) is based in two geographical areas: the home region of the museum, i.e. southern Germany, and South America, mainly Brazil. A main task of the museum – contributing to the knowledge of the regional fauna and preserving vouchers and data in collections and databases has been pursued over the years primarily via ecological studies of the soil fauna (project-based and third-party funded).

Work in South America has a long tradition at SMNK. The former head of the zoological department (now section) Prof. Ludwig Beck sampled, observed and described Neotropical soil mites and other arachnids as early as the 1960s, doing pioneer work on tropical soil biology and ecology.

He brought ecological questions and methodology into the (state) museum and initiated long-term studies on soil and litter communities in temperate forests, funded by third-party investors (federal authorities).

For several years (1991-1996) museum-based research in the tropics was funded by the German Science Foundation DFG as part of the program “Mechanisms maintaining tropical diversity”. H. Höfer studied the spider assemblages in central Amazonian forests (Reserva Ducke). Together with Brazilian colleagues he sampled and identified thousands of specimens of the Amazonian spider fauna which was nearly unknown at the time. This material is now deposited at INPA (Manaus), IBSP (São Paulo) and SMNK (Karlsruhe). Many species from these collections have been described in the meantime.

Both in Germany and in Brazil, the experience and knowledge gained from the basic research on the occurrence and taxonomy of species, natural history and diversity served as a basis for applied questions. The museums's work group on tropical ecology has participated in large Brazilian-German research programs like SHIFT (Studies on Human Impact on Forests and Floodplains in the Tropics, 1996-2003) and “Science and Technology for the Mata Atlântica (2002-2009), working on soil zoology, i.e. the function and importance of soil fauna in tropical primary and secondary forests and agroforestry plantations.

The competence centre InBioVeritas was founded by Brazilian and German partner organizations in 2007. It was inspired by the very positive collaborative experience during the SOLOBIOMA project and the wish to enable continuous (project independent) work for the conservation of the biodiversity of the Atlantic Forests in Brazil

A large project contributing to the knowledge of soil arthropods in the alpine environment was completed on Einödsberg-Alpe from 2003 to 2008.

In the past several years, the digitalization and administration of the collection data have become an important and time-consuming task, but most collections are now in relational databases and consequently made available through web portals. These days, the main interest is to make biodiversity data accessible and analyzable through information systems, building virtual reserch environments. Several current projects deal with this issue.

Mygalomorph spider
Mygalomorph spider (Foto: H.Höfer)
Experimental burned site in Amazonia
Experimental burned site (Foto: H.Höfer)
Soil sampling
Soil sampling (Foto: H.Höfer)
Litterbag experiment
Litterbag experiment (Foto: H.Höfer)
Alpine meadow
Alpine meadow (Foto: H.Höfer)
Pitfall trap sampling
Pitfall trap sampling (Foto: L. Scheuermann)