Research interests

  • Innate und adaptive immune gene diversity (TLRs, MHC)
  • Wildlife health
  • Host-pathogen interaction
  • Landscape ecology



Scientific projects

Landscape changes due to human activities can imply severe consequences for the population dynamics and health of animals living in these areas, e.g. caused by intrinsic effects, shifts in species assemblages and abundance pattern, and barriers to gene flow or forced migration affecting their genetic diversity. Environmental changes can also influence the abundance and transmission pattern of naturally occurring pathogens, e.g. due to alterations in species composition or lack of predators that eliminate infected animals. Moreover, new pathogens might be introduced by humans and concomitant organisms.

My aim is to unveil the impacts of environmental and ecological changes, and the immune-genetic constitution on wildlife health. Within the framework of my PhD thesis I captured small terrestrial mammal communities (rodents and marsupials) in different rainforest landscapes inside and within the vicinity of the Barro Colorado National Monument in Panamá. The landscapes differed in their extant of human disturbance, especially the degree of fragmentation and isolation. I investigate the individual innate and adaptive immune gene diversity, such as Toll-like Receptors (TLRs) and genes encoded by the Major Histocompatibility Complex (MHC) in relation to viral, gut bacterial, blood parasite and helminthic infections. The study will contribute to increase our understanding of the effects of habitat disturbance on species demography and functional genetic diversity and how this in turn affects the animal’s ability to cope with different pathogen pressures.


My research is funded by the German Science Foundation (DFG) and is part of the DFG Priority Program SPP 1596/2 Ecology and species barriers in emerging infectious diseases (SO 428/ 9-1, 9-2 and DR 772/8-1).




Heni AC, Schmid J, Rasche A, Corman VM, Drosten C, Sommer S (2020) Pathogen-associated selection on innate immunity genes (TLR4, TLR7) in a neotropical rodent in landscapes differing in anthropogenic disturbance. Heredity (in press) (


  • Alexander Heni
    Institute of Evolutionary Ecology
    and Conservation Genomics
    University of Ulm
    Albert-Einstein-Allee 11
    89081 Ulm
    Email: alexander.heni ()