Research interests

  • Immune genomics
  • Viral, bacterial and parasitological
    health monitoring
  • Phylogeny and phylogeography
  • Parentage and relatedness analyses
    in wild mammals
  • Population genetics

Scientific projects

Evolution is based upon changes in the individual’s genetic prerequisites. I accompanied the possibilities of molecular investigations since the PCR conquered the labs and followed them from Sanger sequencing through 1rst, 2nd to 3rd Next Generation Sequencing. The rapid development in molecular tools over the past 20 years is comparable with and only possible through the concurring development of computational possibilities. These tools still open up new technical fields to address and answer ecological and evolutionary questions on a large scale basis. To address various questions in behavioral ecology, population and conservation genetics my job comes into the game once the projects successfully collected tissue, blood or fecal samples find their way from the field into our molecular laboratories. The department’s lab facilities enable among others the research on immune genomics by multi locus targeted sequencing of MHC genes, quantitative expression analysis of immune relevant genes, microbiome, metagenomics, metabarcoding and viral genome assays using our Illumina platform, SSCP genotyping, molecular marker development, microsatellite screening and microscopic parasite load quantification.


Carranco AS, Gillingham MAF, Wilhelm K, Romo D, de Lourdes Torres M, Sommer S*, Romo D* (2022) Transcending sea turtles: first report of hatching failure in eggs of an Amazonian freshwater turtle with symptoms of the fungal emerging disease fusariosis. Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, 69, e3282–e3288. *contributed equally to the study

Carranco AS, Romo D, de Lourdes Torres M, Wilhelm K, Sommer S*, Gillingham MAF* (2022) Egg microbiota is the starting point of hatchling gut microbiota the endangered yellow-spotted Amazon river turtle. Molecular Ecology, 31(14), 3917-3933. *contributed equally to the study

Donadio J, Risely A, Müller-Klein N, Wilhelm K, Clutton-Brock T, Manser MB, Sommer S (2022) Characterizing tuberculosis progression in wild meerkats (Suricata suricatta) from faecal samples and clinical signs. Journal of Wildlife Diseases, 58(2), 309–321.

Risely A, Schmid DW, Müller-Klein N, Wilhelm K, Clutton-Brock T, Manser MB, Sommer S (2022) Gut microbiota individuality is contingent on temporal scale and age in wild meerkats. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 289, 20220609.

Schwensow N*, Heni A*, Schmid J, Montero BK, Brändel S, Halczok TK, Mayer G, Fackelmann G, Wilhelm K, Schmid D*, Sommer S* (2022). Disentangling direct from indirect effects of habitat disturbance on multiple components of biodiversity. Journal Animal Ecology, 91, 2220-2234. *shared first / senior authors

Fackelmann F, Gillingham MAF, Schmid J, Heni AC, Wilhelm K, Sommer S (2021) Human encroachment into wildlife gut microbiomes. Communications Biology, 4, 800.

Gillingham MAF, Montero BK, Wilhelm K, Grudzus K, Sommer S, Santos PSC (2021) A novel workflow to improve genotyping of multigene families in wildlife species: an experimental set-up with a known model system. Molecular Ecology Resources, 21, 982-998.

Risely A, Wilhelm K, Clutton-Brock T, Manser MB, Sommer S (2021) Diurnal oscillations in gut bacterial load and composition eclipse seasonal and lifetime dynamics in wild meerkats, Suricata suricatta. Nature Communications, 12, 6017.

Víquez-R L, Speer K, Wilhelm K, Simmons N, Medellín RA, Sommer S*, Tschapka M* (2021) A faithful gut: Core features of gastrointestinal microbiota of long-distance migratory bats remain stable despite dietary shifts driving differences in specific bacterial taxa. Microbiology Spectrum, 9(3): e01525-21. *contributed equally to the study.

Víquez-R L, Fleischer R, Wilhelm K, Tschapka M, Sommer S (2020) Jumping the green wall: the use of PNA-DNA clamps to enhance microbiome sampling depth in wildlife microbiome research. Ecology and Evolution, 10, 11779-11786.

Gillingham MAF, Béchet A, Cézilly FW, Wilhelm K, Rendón-Martos M, Amat JA, Borghesi F, Nissardi S, Baccetti N, Menke S, Kayser Y, Sommer S (2019) Offspring microbiomes differ across breeding sites in a panmictic species. Frontiers in Microbiology, 10, 35.

Menke S, Heurich M, Henrich M, Wilhelm K, Sommer S (2019) Impact of winter enclosures on the gut bacterial microbiota of red deer in the Bavarian Forest National Park. Wildlife Biology, 1.

Landgraf C, Wilhelm K, Wirth J, Weiss M, Kipper S (2017) Affairs happen - to whom? A study on extrapair paternity in common nightingales. Current Zoology: 63(4), 421-431.

Menke S, Gillingham M, Wilhelm K, Sommer S (2017) Home-made cost effective preservation buffer is a better alternative to commercial preservation methods for microbiome research. Frontiers in Microbiology: 8, 102.

East ML, Kurze C, Wilhelm K, Benhaiem S, Hofer H (2013) Factors influencing Dipylidium sp. Infection in a free-ranging social carnivore, the spotted hyaena (Crocuta crocuta). International Journal of Parasitology: Parasites and Wildlife 2, 257-265.

Höner OP, Wachter B, Hofer H, Wilhelm K, Thierer D, Burke T, Trillmich F, East ML (2010) The fitness of dispersing spotted hyaena sons is influenced by maternal social status. Nature Communications 1, 60.

East ML, Höner OP, Wachter B, Wilhelm K, Burke T, Hofer H (2009) Maternal effects on offspring social status in spotted hyenas. Behavioral Ecology 20: 478-483.

Höner OP, Wachter B, East ML, Streich WJ, Wilhelm K, Burke T, Hofer H (2008) Do female hyaenas choose mates based on tenure? Reply to Van Horn et al. Nature 454, E2 (10 July 2008).

East ML, Wibbelt G, Lieckfeldt D, Ludwig A, Goller K, Wilhelm K, Schares G, Thierer D, Hofer H (2008). A Hepatozoon species genetically distinct from H. canis infecting spotted hyena in the Serengeti ecosystem, Tanzania. Journal of Wildlife Diseases 44, 45-52.

Höner OP, Wachter B, East ML, Streich WJ, Wilhelm K, Burke T, Hofer H (2007) Female mate choice drives the evolution of male-biased dispersal in a social mammal. Nature 448: 798-801.

Peters G, East ML, Herzel HP, Henschel JR, Mills MGL, Wilhelm K, Hofer H 2004 Spotted hyaena whoops: frequent incidence of vocal instabilities in a mammalian loud call. Bioacoustics 14: 99-109.

East ML, Burke T, Wilhelm K, Greig C, Hofer H 2003 Sexual conflicts in spotted hyenas: male and female mating tactics and their reproductive outcome with respect to age, social status and tenure. Proceedings of the Royal Society London B 270: 1247-1254.

Wilhelm K, Dawson DA, Gentle LK, Greig C, Horsefield G,  Schlötterer C, Burke T, East ML, Hofer H, Tautz D (2003) Characterisation of spotted hyena Crocuta Crocuta microsatellite loci. Molecular Ecology Notes 3: 360-362.


    Kerstin Wilhelm
    Institute of Evolutionary Ecology
    and Conservation Genomics
    University of Ulm
    Albert Einstein Allee 11
    D 89069 Ulm
    Tel. +49 (0)731 50 22673
    Fax +49 (0)731 50 22683
    kerstin.wilhelm ()