Globally mammalian biodiversity is declining at an alarming rate as a result of widespread habitat loss and degradation, and unsustainable hunting. We study how these anthropogenic drivers impact the distribution and abundance of ground dwelling mammals. In our field projects we use camera-traps and iDNA (invertebrate derived DNA) metabarcoding to assess species occurrences and we employ statistical models that investigate how anthropogenic drivers affect species distribution. We develop standardized methods and strategies for rigorous biodiversity assessments in order to provide robust scientific baseline data that allow monitoring species-specific and community-wide trends over time. In our work we regularly collaborate closely with local stakeholders and decision makers in order to integrate our data and results directly into wildlife and conservation management policy.

Lead: Dr. Andreas Wilting & Dr. Rahel Sollmann

Andreas, Deputy Department and Team Lead, ecologist and evolutionary biologist with strong interest in species conservation, interested in methods and tools to study species distributions and to use these biodiversity data to target conservation efforts

Rahel, Team Lead, ecologist and quantitative biologist has specialised in the analysis of camera trap data with Bayesian methods for wildlife conservation

Data manager: Dr. Jan Axtner, Data Management, ecologist and evolutionary geneticist, finds ways how to produce, store and handle large amounts of data of modern high-throughput biodiversity assessments

Running Projects

Field Projects

Malaysia; Borneo

In Malaysian Borneo we study how different anthropogenic drivers affect the occurrence and abundance of ground-dwelling mammal and bird communities. Since 2008, we have monitored mammalian communities over time in forest sites in various stages of recovering from severe logging impacts and under different forest management strategies. We compare the impacts of these strategies (i.e. mixed land-uses with industrial tree plantation and natural forest management, conventionally selective logging and reduced impact logging) at different spatial and temporal scales.

People involved: Alzlan bin Mohamed, Roshan Guharajan, Jürgen Niedballa, Seth T Wong

Local partners: Sabah Forestry Department, Ta Ann Holdings Berhad, WWF Malaysia (Sarawak)

Financial support: Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Panthera, Point Defiance Zoo and Aquarium, Point Defiance Zoo Society, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, International Association for Bear Research and Management

How do mammals respond to different logging schemes?

The effect of different forest management schemes (reduced-impact logging vs. conventional selective logging) on terrestrial mammal communities in Borneo are insufficiently documented due to a lack of robust monitoring approaches. For my Phd project, I carried out large scale camera-trapping surveys in three forest reserves with varying degrees of logging to evaluate the effects of… Read More

Understand how species distributions shift in response to landcover change and poaching

My work takes place in a landscape in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. I am using camera trapping data to look at how large mammal habitat use and distribution is affected by forest degradation and poaching. I am also using anti-poaching patrol data to identify landscape features most used by poachers. The goal is to identify high… Read More

Wildlife communities in mixed land-use landscapes

Understanding how globally threatened species and wildlife communities respond to changing landscapes and efforts towards more sustainable use of forest resources is essential for species conservation and sustainable forest management. For this project, I usitlise camera traps to survey terrestrial wildlife communities within two mixed land-use forest management units containing sustainably logged, natural forest and… Read More

Recent publications:

Guharajan R, Mohamed A, Wong ST, Niedballa J, Petrus A, Jubili J, Lietz R, Clements GR, Wong WM, Kissing J, Lagan P, Wilting A (2021). Sustainable forest management is vital for the persistence of sun bear Helarctos malayanus populations in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo. FOR ECOL MANAG 493, 119270. doi:10.1016/j.foreco.2021.119270

Mohamed A, Sollmann R, Wong ST, Niedballa J, Abrams JF, Kissing J, Wilting A (2021): Counting Sunda clouded leopards with confidence: incorporating individual heterogeneity in density estimates. ORYX 55(1), 56-65. doi:10.1017/S0030605318001503

Mathai J, Niedballa J, Radchuk V, Sollmann R, Heckmann I, Brodie J, Struebig M, Hearn AJ, Ross J, Macdonald DW, Hin J, Wilting A (2019): Identifying refuges for Borneo’s elusive Hose’s civet. GLOB ECOL EVOL 17, e00531. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00531

Mohamed A, Sollmann R, Wong ST, Niedballa J, Abrams JF, Kissing J, Wilting A (2019): Counting Sunda clouded leopards with confidence: incorporating individual heterogeneity in density estimates. ORYX, 1-10. doi:10.1017/S0030605318001503

Brozovic R, Abrams JF, Mohamed A, Wong ST, Niedballa J, Bhagwat T, Sollmann R, Mannan S, Kissing J & WiltingA (2018). Effects of forest degradation on the moonrat Echinosorex gymnura in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, Mammalian Biology, 93: 135-143.

Wong ST, Belant JL, Sollmann R, Mohamed A, Niedballa J, Mathai J, Meijaard E, Street GM, Kissing J, Mannan S & WiltingA (2018). Habitat associations of the Sunda stink-badger Mydaus javanensis in three forest reserves in Sabah, Malaysian Borneo, Mammalian Biology, 88: 75-80.

Mathai J, Sollmann R, Meredith ME, Belant JL, Niedballa J, Buckingham L, Wong ST, Asad S & WiltingA (2017). Fine-scale distributions of carnivores in a logging concession in Sarawak, Malaysian Borneo. Mammalian Biology, 86: 56-65.

Sollmann R, Mohamed A, Niedballa J, Bender J, Ambu L, Lagan P, Mannan S, Ong RC, Langner A, Gardner B & WiltingA (2017). Quantifying mammal biodiversity co‐benefits in certified tropical forests. Diversity and Distributions, 23(3): 317-328.

Viet Nam, Laos; Annamite region

We want to learn more about the ecology of the little known Annamite endemics and understand what anthropogenic predictors drive the current distribution of these threatened species. In addition to habitat loss, unsustainable hunting is emerging as an increasingly important threat to tropical wildlife biodiversity. Due to pervasive hunting even many protected areas face massive species losses today. This widespread defaunation has been particularly severe in Indochina, where ‘industrial’ snaring has decimated wildlife populations drastically and driven many species to local extinction. Since 2014 we have implemented systematic camera-trapping and iDNA surveys across protected and non-protected areas within the Annamite ecoregion, an Indochinese biodiversity hotspot with an exceptionally high concentration of endemic mammals that, at the same time, face exposure to the highest hunting pressures. Using modern species distribution models we aim to identify and predict areas of particular conservation concern in order to support better conservation efforts by our partners.

People involved: Andrew Tilker, An The Troung Nguyen, Than Van Nguyen, Jürgen Niedballa

Local partners Viet Nam: WWF Vietnam, Save Vietnam’s Wildlife, Fauna & Flora International, Global Willife Conservation GWC, Re:wild, Southern Institute of Ecology SIE, Central Institute for Natural Resources and Environmental Studies, Vinh University

Local partners Laos: WWF Laos, Project Anoulak

Financial support: Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), Point Defiance Zoo & Aquaria, National Geographic, Ocean Park Conservation Foundation, Manfred-Hermsen-Stiftung, Mohamed bin Zayed Species Conservation Fund, Eva Mayr-Stihl Stiftung

Annamite endemics

In my PhD, I conducted intensive systematic camera-trapping surveys and leech collections to support conservation of species in three protected areas in the Annamite mountains. A focus of my study is on the Annamite stripped rabbit, a beautiful endemic species, which was only discovered by science over 20 years ago and is now highly threatened.… Read More

Community structure and landscape-scale distribution of ground-dwelling mammals and birds in the Annamites: setting conservation priorities in a biodiversity hotspot

Snaring has led to the local extinction of numerous large- and medium-sized mammals and ground-dwelling birds, and pushed several Annamite endemic species to the brink of extinction. To protect the Annamites mammal and ground-dwelling bird community, it is imperative to collect data to inform anti-poaching initiatives and establish conservation baselines. I will conduct landscape-level systematic… Read More

How does biodiversity respond to different levels of hunting and anthropogenic disturbances?

My work focuses on the ecology and distribution of Annamite endemic species, with the ultimate goal of using this information to guide conservation efforts. My teams and I conducted landscape-scale systematic camera-trapping and leech surveys across five areas in the central Annamites landscape: Bach Ma National Park, the Hue and Quang Nam Saola Nature Reserves,… Read More

Recent publications:

Tilker A, Nguyen A, Timmins RJ, Gray TNE (2020): No longer Data Deficient: recategorizing the Annamite striped rabbit Nesolagus timminsi as Endangered. ORYX 54(2): 151. doi:10.1017/S0030605319001078

Tilker A, Abrams JF, Nguyen A, Hörig L, Axtner J, Louvrier J, Rawson BM, Nguyen HAQ, Guegan F, Nguyen TV, Le M, Sollmann R, Wilting A (2020): Identifying conservation priorities in a defaunated tropical biodiversity hotspot. DIVERS DISTRIB. doi:10.1111/ddi.13029

Nguyen A, Tran VB, Huang MD, Nguyen TAM, Nguyen DT, Tran VT, Long B, Meijaard E, Holland J, Wilting A, Tilker A (2019): Camera-trap evidence that the silver-backed chevrotain Tragulus versicolor remains in the wild in Vietnam. NAT ECOL EVOL. doi:10.1038/s41559-019-1027-7

Tilker A, Abrams JF, Mohamed A, Nguyen A, Wong ST, Sollmann R, Niedballa J, Bhagwat T, Gray TNE, Rawson BM, Guegan F, Kissing J, Wegmann M, Wilting A (2019): Habitat degradation and indiscriminate hunting differentially impact faunal communities in the Southeast Asian tropical biodiversity hotspot. COMMS BIOL 2, 396. doi:10.1038/s42003-019-0640-y

Tilker A, Nguyen A, Abrams JF, Bhagwat T, Le M, Nguyen TV, Nguyen AT, Niedballa J, Solllmann R & Wilting A (2018). A little-known endemic caught in the South-east Asian extinction crisis: The Annamite striped rabbit Nesolagus timminsi. Oryx 2018: 1-10.

Tilker A, Long B, Gray TNE, Robichaud W, Ngoc TV, Nguyen VL, Holland J, Shurter S, Comizzoli P, Thomas PK, Ratajszczak R & Burton J (2017). Saving the saola from extinction. Science, 357(6357): 1248. 10.1126/science.aap9591

Concepts & Methodology

Developing standardized and reliable survey tools to monitor mammals in tropical rainforests.

Studying biodiversity on a larger scale is essential to support political and conservation decisions. However, combining and integrating different biodiversity datasets into larger scale analyses is often challenging and associated with a loss of data accuracy and detail. We improve, develop and establish standardized methods and protocols to study and monitor biodiversity. Hereby we focus mainly on high-throughput methods that are applicable in tropical rainforests.
ScreenForBio user guide

People involved: Jan Axtner, Roshan Guharajan, Than Van Nguyen, Jürgen Niedballa, Azlan bin Mohamed, Badru Mugerwa, Andrew Tilker, Seth T Wong, Andreas Wilting

Collaborators: Prof. Dr. Rahel Sollmann (University California, Davis, USA), Prof. Dr. Douglas Yu (University of East Anglia, Norwich, UK & Kunming University, Kunming, China), Dr. Jesse F Abrams (University of Exeter, Exeter, UK), Dr. Anirban Mukhopadhyay (Technische Universität Darmstadt, Darmstadt, Germany)

Camera trapping

Cameratraps are operational 24 hours a day and can work continuously for months at a time; therefore they represent an ideal method for gathering data even on rare and elusive species of tropical rainforest. To manage large amounts of camera-trapping data and to prepare the data for downstream data analyses we created the R package… Read More

Environmental data

Understanding the fundamental drivers of species occurrence is a central tenant of ecology. We develop field protocols and pipelines for standardized in-situ habitat surveys as well as ex-situ remote sensing methods in order to collect environmental data. These are essential for answering ecological questions about the distribution of species with respect to available habitat and/or… Read More

Invertebrate-derived DNA

Surveying species based on traces of residual DNA from environmental samples (e/iDNA), offers a potential new tool for wildlife biologists. They are attractive due to their low sampling costs and the possibility to obtain high number of samples in relatively short time. We developed protocols and a complete pipeline for larger scale environmental metabarcoding DNA… Read More

Pantropical assessment of tropical forest mammal biodiversity

No place on Earth is our understanding of the impacts of habitat degradation on biodiversity so limited like in the tropical rain forest regions. In my PhD I am conducting a pantropical assessment of the impacts of habitat degradation on tropical forest terrestrial mammals. This is possible through combining novel statistical and modelling approaches which… Read More

Recent publications:

Abrams JF, Sollmann R, Mitchel SL, Struebig MJ, Wilting A (2021). Occupancy-based diversity profiles: capturing biodiversity complexities while accounting for imperfect detection. ECOGRAPHY 44(7), 975-986. doi:10.1111/ecog.05577.

Alfano N, Dayaram A, Axtner, J. Tsangaras, K. Kampmann, M.-L., Mohamed, A., Wong, S.T., Gilbert, M.T.P. Wilting, A., Greenwood, A. D. (2021). Non-invasive surveys of mammalian viruses using environmental DNA. METHODS ECOL EVOL, in press. doi:10.1111/2041-210X.13661

Nguyen TV, Tilker A, Nguyen A, Hörig L, Axtner J, Schmidt A, Le M, Nguyen AHQ, Rawson BM, Wilting A, Fickel J (2021). Using terrestrial leeches to assess the genetic diversity of an elusive species: the Annamite striped rabbit Nesolagus timminsi. eDNA, ENVIRONMENTAL DNA 3, 780-791. doi:10.1002/edn3.182.

Wong ST, Belant JL, Sollmann R, Mohamed A, Niedballa J, Mathai J, Street GM, Wilting A (2019): Influence of body mass, sociality, and movement behavior on improved detection probabilities when using a second camera trap. GLOBAL ECOL AND EVOL 20, e00791. doi:10.1016/j.gecco.2019.e00791

Abrams JF, Hörig L, Brozovic R, Axtner J, Crampton-Platt A, Mohamed A, Wong ST, Sollmann R, Yu DW & Wilting A (2019). Shifting up a gear with iDNA: from mammal detection events to standardized surveys. Journal of Applied Ecology.

Axtner J, Crampton-Platt A, Hörig L, Mohamed A, Xu CCY, Yu DW & Wilting A (2019). An efficient and robust laboratory workflow and tetrapod database for larger scale environmental DNA studies, GigaScience, 8(4): giz029,

Niedballa J, Wilting A, Sollmann R, Hofer H & Courtiol A (2019). Assessing analytical methods for detecting spatiotemporal interactions between species from camera trapping data. Remote Sensing in Ecology and Conservation.
Video abstract

Abrams JF, Vashishtha A, Wong ST, Nguyen A, Mohamed A, Wieser S, Kuijper A, Wilting A & Mukhopadhyay A (2019). Habitat-Net: Segmentation of habitat images using deep learning. Ecological Informatics, 51: 121-128.

Bush A, Sollmann R, Wilting A, Bohmann K, Cole B, Balzter H, Martius C, Zlinszky A, Calvignac-Spencer S, Cobbold CA, Dawson TP, Emerson BC, Ferrier S, Gilbert MTP, Herold M, Jones L, Leendertz FH, Matthews L, Millington JDA, Olson JR, Ovaskainen O, Raffaelli D, Reeve R, Rödel MO, Rodgers TW, Snape S, Visseren-Hamakers I, Vogler AP, White PCL, Wooster MJ & Yu DW (2017). Connecting Earth observation to high-throughput biodiversity data. Nature Ecology & Evolution, 1(7):176.

Mohd Salleh F, Ramos-Madrigal J, Penaloza F, Liu S, Sinding M-HS, Patel RP, Martins R, Lenz D, Fickel J, Roos C, Shamsir MS, Azman MS, Lim BK, Rossiter SJ, Wilting A & Gilbert MTP (2017). An extended Mammal mitogenome dataset from Southeast Asia. Gigascience, 6(8): gix053.

Niedballa J, Sollmann R, Courtiol A & Wilting A (2016). camtrapR: an R package for efficient camera trap data management. Methods in Ecology and Evolution, 7(12): 1457-1462.