Dr. Stefan Merker


Head of Department

Ecology and evolution of tarsiers

Many of our research projects aim at the ecology and evolution of tarsiers. The remarkable natural history of these small nocturnal primates makes them fascinating model organisms for insight into evolutionary ecology and compelling flagships for conservation. Within three years of field work in the rainforests of Sulawesi, Indonesia, I evaluated population densities and ranging patterns along a gradient of human disturbance (consequently developing conservation recommendations) and (co-)described new tarsier species (Tarsius lariang, T. tumpara, T. wallacei).

Inspired by studies on the plate-tectonic history of Southeast Asia, we currently aim at reconstructing evolutionary processes leading to the diversification and present distributions of tarsiers. Applying morphological, bioacoustic and molecular tools, we assess the extent and phylogenetic significance of variation on different levels of organization. Following the discovery of an interspecific tarsier hybrid zone (see figure on the right), we currently target the rationale of the observed assymmetric introgressive hybridization. Another study focusses at incipient speciation in the newly discovered Wallace’s tarsier.                               (photos © S. Merker; figure from Merker et al. (2009) PNAS)

Phylogeography and conservation of African elephants

In cooperation with WWF Germany, we aim at reconstructing dispersal of elephants across Africa and at refining methods to assign ivory samples to its species and region of origin. Isotopic and genetic fingerprinting are promising tools to identify seized ivory and thus, to eventually tackle elephant poaching – one of the most pressing conservation issues in Africa.

Further projects...

  • Population genetics and dispersal dynamics of European beavers (Castor fiber) in Baden-Wuerttemberg, Germany
  • Population genetics of Irrawaddy dolphins (Orcaella brevirostris) in the Mekong river, Cambodia