A biologist dedicated to climate research

"This article was published in our June 2018 newsletter". Sign up here.

Like migratory birds, many bats fly thousands of kilometres to escape to warmer climes during the winter. But how are they being affected by global warming? Will the bats continue to do what they have always done? Or might they adapt their behaviour and just stay in one place? These are the kind of questions that the biologist Kseniia Kravchenko is exploring. For years she has been studying the common noctule, one of the most widespread species of bats in Europe. All the same, she does not see herself as a bat expert – "actually what I am really interested in is climate change". In many cases its consequences can be seen only indirectly – from changes in the animal world, for instance. This makes bats extremely interesting "bioindicators" for environmental researchers, explains Kravchenko, who is currently working on her doctoral thesis in Berlin.

From Ukraine to Germany

A biologist dedicated to climate research
Kseniia Kravchenko at work: conducting research into bats.

28-year-old Kravchenko had had her eye on the scientific community in Germany long before she moved there. She began her academic career at home in Ukraine, obtaining a bachelor’s degree at V. N. Karazin Kharkiv National University. She followed this up with a master’s degree from the University of Wrocław in Poland. Kravchenko first attended a conference on bats in Berlin in 2013. This was followed by a number of short stays there – and the decision to continue her academic career in Germany. To this end, Kravchenko applied for the Green Talents Award hosted each year by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research. At the time, she was researching wind turbines and bats in Eastern Europe. While wind power is an important source of renewable energy, the wind turbines pose a deadly risk to migratory birds and bats. Biologists are attempting to understand why the animals are attracted by the rotating blades.

Green Talents Award and DAAD scholarship

In 2015, Kseniia Kravchenko was honoured with the Green Talents Award – an achievement that fills the young researcher with pride to this day. The award opened up new opportunities for her, as one of its components is a three-month internship. Kravchenko completed her placement in 2016 at the Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW) in Berlin. During her time at the IZW, she and her supervisor came up with the idea for a research project. "I then submitted the idea to the DAAD in the hope of receiving a PhD scholarship."

And once again, the young scientist’s application was successful: she is now working until 2019 at the IZW’s "Bat Lab" under Dr Christian Voigt. She is again researching bats in Eastern Europe, though this time the focus is on population dynamics, urbanisation and migratory patterns. "We are observing that bats are finding new habitats for themselves in urban areas, for example in attics", says Kravchenko. And because temperatures are on the rise in Europe, some species are abandoning their annual migrations to the south. "That said, not all are able to adapt to climate change as well as the common noctule is." As yet, scientists are not quite sure why this should be the case.

Networking and international flair

At the IZW, this is the sort of question Kravchenko can discuss with her colleagues. "Networking and communication are extremely important in science", she stresses, adding that the research conditions in Berlin are excellent in this respect. "We have a network with other research institutes and there are many interesting conferences." Then there is the international flair at the IZW, which is something she appreciates very much. As the biologist explains, 50 PhD students from more than 30 countries are currently enriching life at the institute. "We can learn a lot from another, not only in our respective subject areas, but also in cultural terms."

Various options for young researchers

Students and young researchers will find good conditions for studying biology at German universities. The following universities score particularly well in the CHE Ranking:

Young biologists can also find a wide range of research opportunities at non-university institutions in Germany, for example at the:

Leibniz Institute for Zoo and Wildlife Research (IZW)

Founded in 1992, the IZW is a non-university research institution of international renown with a staff of around 270. The institute is a member of the German Leibniz Association, an alliance of 93 research institutes active in different disciplines. First and foremost, scientists at the IZW pursue basic research in biology, zoology and ecology.

www.izw-berlin.de