„Whether the intestinal morphology of marine snails or the genitalia of beetles – it is the diversity of research questions that characterises the work in the morphology lab.“
© LIB, Niephaus
Although he actually wanted to become a marine biologist, he found his dream job. As head of the morphology laboratory in Bonn, he is involved in planning and evaluating various projects. Methods can be an important interface for him to link the different research areas at the LIB. He finds a balance to his work in his garden.
What led you to biology?
Actually, I always wanted to be a biologist. When I was a kid, everyone had a Panini album and collected football players. I collected the animal stickers for the WWF album – and had them all. When I was still missing two, I grabbed the box of stickers at my parents’ bookshop and tore open as many as I could until I finally had them. But I was never the “classic collector” who collected animals as a child.
What would you have become if you hadn’t become a biologist?
I once considered studying computer science. Today I’m glad I didn’t do that. Since I didn’t want to study straight after graduating from high school, didn’t have to join the German armed forces and come from a publishing family, I first did an education as a publishing house clerk. But basically there was never a real alternative to biology for me. I am now the only person in my family who trained as a publishing house clerk, but does not work in a publishing house.
What in particular fascinated you about morphological research?
Originally, I wanted to be a marine biologist. However, when I realised that I get very seasick, it didn’t work out. I came to morphology by chance. I studied in Göttingen and worked as a student assistant in the research group that made the first computer tomographic images of insects. Dissecting the animals and looking inside in combination with modern methods fascinated me, and so I stayed with morphology.
What characterises the work in the morphology lab?
We are organised methodically and do not work organism-specifically: if someone is interested in studying an organism morphologically, he or she can come to us and we will offer our support: What equipment is needed? Do we have them and how are they handled? How will the data be analysed? This gives me the opportunity to participate and think in the planning and evaluation, the most exciting parts of projects for me. Whether it’s the intestinal morphology of sea snails or the genitalia of beetles – it’s the diversity of the questions that makes working in the morphology lab so fascinating. For me, this is my absolute dream job.
What aspect of your job do you find a highlight?
That I work together with many different people. I think I have now cooperated with all colleagues at the Centre for Taxonomy and Morphology who work on organisms. Another highlight is that I constantly deal with new topics and don’t stand still.
Do you have a dream of what your work might have achieved in five or ten years?
I see great opportunities in the symbiosis of Hamburg and Bonn. For the morphology laboratories at the two sites, we have decided that we are one unit – a cog wheel in the gearbox of the LIB. Internally, our goal is to contribute to the networking of sections, departments, centers and sites as a central facility at the institute. Methods can be an important interface and have great potential to bring different areas together.
An overall goal is to increase the visibility of morphological research. When I started researching this, morphology was kind of written off and molecular biology was at its peak. The morphological methods were considered old-fashioned because they were used as they were a hundred years ago. People said to us “You still do that?”. In recent years, however, there has been incredible methodological upgrading and modernization. This makes morphology attractive to the outside world as well. On guided tours, I always find that people are very interested and find it exciting how you can look inside animals.
Is there a favourite place in nature?
My garden! I am an enthusiastic gardener. The garden is my balance. Also the forest at the idyllic Katzenlochbach in Röttgen in direct neighborhood to our house. It is a beautiful place where I like to spend time.
Crayfish, fish, butterflies or other animals or plants: Who has their own personal affection?
I have to distinguish between professional and private. Professionally, the polyneopterous insects: These include grasshoppers, cockroaches or earwigs. Privately, cats are my favorite animals. But I also like sloths very much because they are cute and simply different: they hang upside down on the tree most of the time, their fur line runs differently, and they don’t focus on speed – quite the opposite.
What do you see as the biggest challenge in the field of environmental protection?
The public’s awareness of the extinction of species, even right here in our own country. When we think of species extinction – and I include myself in this – we often think of the deforested rainforests in the tropics and not of the fields on our doorstep that are being treated with chemicals. Although a lot has been achieved in environmental protection in recent decades, we still have enormous species losses.
What do you want people to associate with the LIB in ten years’ time?
Biodiversity change: We as LIB have to communicate what biodiversity change means, that it is not only a topic for science, but will have massive consequences for all of us. Compared to climate change, many people are not even aware of the problems of biodiversity change.
More information about the morphology lab in Bonn and the whole team with Benjamin Wipfler, Juliane Vehof, Mariam Gabelaia, Tim Dannenfeld and Franziska Schmickler can be found here: https://bonn.leibniz-lib.de/en/morphology-laboratory
Dr. Benjamin Wipfler studied biology in Göttingen and wrote his diploma thesis on the head morphology of mantises. For his PhD thesis on the head structures of polyneopteran insects, he moved to Friedrich Schiller University Jena to work with Prof. Beutel. Since 2018 he works at the Museum Koenig and lives with his family in Bonn.