Faces of the LIB: Alexander Haas

“For me, the feeling of happy contentment is often linked to experiences in nature.”

© Stefan Hertwig

 

As head of the Center for Taxonomy and Morphology, he spans a scientific bridge between Bonn and Hamburg. Prof. Dr. Alexander Haas plays a major role in shaping the future of LIB research from the Hamburg site as Section Head of Herpetology and Head of Scientific Infrastructure. While his professional interests are amphibians and reptiles, his private life is characterized by a fit mind, a healthy and sustainable diet, and an athletic lifestyle.

Alexander Haas faces our questions in the new edition of our series “Faces of the LIB”. Starting with Director General Prof. Dr. Bernhard Misof, each month we feature a personality who makes his or her own individual contribution to making the LIB a success at the Bonn and Hamburg sites.

What connects you with nature?

Nature means a lot to me. As a 16-year-old, I had already leased a plot of land with my buddy at the time and tried my hand at being a “nature gardener”. I think that the living environment we have created for ourselves with buildings and roads overtaxes our biological possibilities. Going out into nature can bring balance and relaxation. For me, the feeling of happy contentment is often linked to experiences in nature. Favorite places are the deserts in the southwest of the USA and the ancient rainforests of the island of Borneo. To walk through a cool river or stream far away from civilization in the sweaty rainforest and to make small biological discoveries is for me a closeness to nature of high intensity. It is a small but touching approach to our biological roots as hunter-gatherers. I hope that as many people as possible will continue to have the opportunity to experience nature in its intensity – whether on our doorstep or in faraway places.

Which area at the LIB is particularly close to your heart?

That would certainly be the areas of research and collections. That’s where I’ve always wanted to go, where I feel I’m in the right place. My language is also spoken and understood by others there. The colleagues there are creative, productive, motivated and motivating – really great!

What will people associate with the LIB in ten years’ time?

They will hopefully come to know the LIB as a place of authentic information on species, species communities, habitats, and biodiversity change. At the LIB, we generate and interpret large amounts of original data, and with our collections, we hold enormous amounts of future data that can be accessed through research on the objects in the collection. One of our missions then is to bring this authentic knowledge to society as well. Hopefully, it will become apparent that the LIB is an important national and international node in the network of many other institutions that cooperate and deal with the relationship between man and nature in the broadest sense.

What aspect of your daily professional life is your highlight?

Coming out with publications is a highlight for every scientist, even if you can’t call it everyday in the literal sense. There is often a lot of work and a varied history behind a scientific publication. Its appearance often concludes a research question and sometimes directly opens up new ones. A publication is concrete, tangible, and gives the satisfying feeling of having successfully worked on and completed something. Great experiences are, of course, all forms of expedition. Conducting investigations in the habitat is a special challenge that stays in the memory for a long time due to the many impressions. My trips to Malaysia and Indonesia also gave me the opportunity to get to know the cultures there: both while working together on a project and beyond. I consider that a great privilege and a great enrichment.

How do you explain the term “biodiversity” so that children or people outside of research also understand it?

We are expected to explain science in a way that is understandable – whether to children or their grandparents. Biodiversity refers to a specific area in nature: “Which and how many different creatures live in this area?” is the question that biodiversity answers. If it is high within a lush forest, for example, more different creatures are found there than in a desolate city park where the living conditions for animals and plants are worse.

What do you see as the greatest challenge in environmental protection?

The destruction of habitats and climate change. If today’s biological wealth of the earth is to be approximately preserved, enormous efforts must be made here. Unfortunately, I have witnessed many negative changes in our world in my lifetime: be it the land consolidation in the agricultural area of my childhood, the sealing and urban sprawl of natural areas, the spread of deserts or the clearing of the rainforest, which I could see in Asia. The list could be continued for a long time….

What advice do you have for young biologists at the beginning of their careers?

To follow one’s own passions, questions and interests consistently and emphatically. Not to be dissuaded. We are only willing to put a lot of energy into topics that really interest us and whose pursuit is strongly self-motivated. Finding these topics and goals is important for later success. When I started studying, there was a glut of biologists and they tried to convince us that biology was a dead art. Ultimately, however, no general statements can be made at any time, because the career path for everyone is highly individual. Students have to embark on this journey – this experiment.

About Prof. Dr. Alexander Haas
He has been director of the LIB Center for Taxonomy and Morphology since July 1, 2021. Born in Heilbronn in 1964, Alexander Haas studied at the Eberhard Karls University in Tübingen. During his studies he spent a year abroad at the University of California Berkeley. Back in Tübingen, he completed his studies in 1993 and his doctorate in 1995. Before completing his doctorate, he became a research assistant at the Chair of Special Zoology at the Friedrich Schiller University in Jena, where he habilitated in 2001. In 2003, he accepted an appointment as professor for “Zoology/Special Zoology of the Tetrapoda” at the University of Hamburg. He is well known in the field for his morphological and phylogenetic studies of amphibians as well as work on frogs and tadpoles in Malaysia and Indonesia.

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