Yearbook 2013

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Does functional or species diversity account for the ecosystem services that biodiversity provides?

Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology Meldau, Stefan; Schuman, Meredith C.; Backmann, Pia; Alhammoud, Nour; Kallenbach, Mario; Kellmann, Jan-W.; Baldwin, Ian T.
To sustain 10 billion humans, we must imbue intensive agricultural monocultures with the ecosystem services once afforded by our planet’s biodiverse terrestrial habitats. Biodiversity is linked to ecosystem productivity and stability, and functional diversity may be the cause. Yet past research on biodiversity has confounded this analysis with profuse traits distinguishing species, regardless of their function. The new project group will investigate functional diversity’s role by amortizing over 300 isogenic, but functionally distinct, Nicotiana attenuata lines created at the institute. more
Female moths attract mates using their pheromones. Any deviation from producing the optimal blend by females, or any tendency to follow a different blend by males, results in reduced mating success and should be selected against. This poses an enigma: in the face of such strong stabilizing selection, how could the different pheromone blends now used by different moth species have evolved? Genetic studies provide a clue: a surprising amount of genetic variation can exist within species, and some of this variation can account for the evolution of differences between species. more
Materials of any kind have to endure severe mechanical conditions, which ultimately determine their lifetime. How long can materials sustain cyclic (thermo-)mechanical loading? Is their response independent of material dimensions? Are new mechanisms occurring when the material volume decreases into the nanoworld? Finding fundamental answers to these questions and to use the knowledge to design robust materials is the basic research mission of the new group Nano- and Micromechanics at the MPI of Iron Research. more

A new class of active and highly stable fuel cell catalysts

Max-Planck-Institut für Eisenforschung GmbH Meier, Josef C.; Galeano, Carolina; Mezzavilla, Stefano; Baldizzone, Claudio; Schüth, Ferdi; Mayrhofer, Karl J. J.
Why are our cars nowadays still not powered by fuel cells? – One of the main reasons is the degradation of the essential catalysts during fuel cell operation, which leads to a loss of active surface area and thus activity over time. Researchers from two Max Planck Institutes have joined efforts and developed and characterized novel nanostructured materials. A first break-through was achieved with a high-performance electrocatalyst that has demonstrated excellent stability properties. more
The supply of energy is currently a global issue. The traditional structures are changing rapidly, as there are deep breaks in the supply of raw materials, because the consequences of climate change are calling for action and because political and economic considerations should lead to energy self-sufficiency. One cause of the strong public and political perception of these processes is the paramount importance of energy for economic and social stability of a country. more
Patients with injury of the primary visual cortex are consciously blind, but can still be able to respond to visual stimuli without being able to explain why. The underlying neuronal mechanisms of this “blindsight” are not well understood, in particular the involvement of the cortex. A new animal model and modern electrophysiological methods have enabled us to gain deeper insights into a phenomenon that questions the common meaning of seeing. more
Hybrids have fascinated biologist for a long time. The possible role that such individuals of mixed origin may play for evolutionary processes is increasingly considered. Much like crosses that are employed by animal and plant breeders to generate new varieties, natural hybrids can harbor novelty that can convey critical fitness advantages in evolutionary processes. By integrating crossing experiments with screens for the emergence of novel traits, scientists at the institute analyze if novel traits in hybrids play a role as adaptations to new environments. more
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