Robert Bosch Junior Professorship

Dr. Thomas Müller

On the Trail of the Gazelles

About one million gazelles live in the steppes of eastern Mongolia. During their migrations through the steppe, they travel more than 1,000 kilometers a year. In doing so, the gazelles perform important functions for the ecosystem, such as contributing to the spread of plant seeds and the exchange of genetic material as well as maintaining the steppe’s nutrient cycles.

Mongolia, a country rich in natural resources, is currently experiencing strong economic growth. A growing infrastructure is pervading the country’s steppes; drilling and pumping towers, streets, and trains are cutting into the gazelles’ habitat. The effects this will have on the gazelle’s migrations remain unclear, since we currently know very little about the gazelles’ migration patterns in certain areas.

Dr. Thomas Müller, Robert Bosch Junior Professor 2013, wants to follow their trail. “Mongolian gazelles do not seem to migrate according to the traditional migration patterns of other animals. This means they do not have specific summer and winter areas. Instead they migrate randomly throughout the steppe,” says the biologist. “That makes it difficult to define clear conservation areas for the animals. So we need to try and keep the entire landscape open to them.”

The junior professor wants to find a way to balance the needs of the animals with the country’s economic development. At the Goethe University, the Frankfurt Biodiversity and Climate Research Center, and the Senckenberg Association for Nature Research in Frankfurt am Main, he will lead one of the first working groups in Germany to focus on the young field of research known as “movement ecology.”

In the next five years, the biologist will initially study how the animals in the region move. The goal is to use the findings to develop computer models in order to calculate animal migrations and make corresponding adjustments to major infrastructure projects. The Robert Bosch Stiftung is supporting this project with a total of one million euros.

Picture Gallery

Photo: Max Lautenschläger
Photo: Max Lautenschläger
Photo: Max Lautenschläger
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller
Photo: Thomas Müller

Short Profile

The Robert Bosch Junior Professor 2013, Dr. Thomas Müller, studied biology at the Philipps-Universität Marburg and subsequently completed his doctorate at the University of Maryland in the USA. He then worked as a postdoc in Frankfurt and Maryland and is also a research associate at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute, USA. After more than ten years abroad, he is returning to Germany for the Robert Bosch Junior Professorship.

As part of his research project, and with his study group, Dr. Müller wishes to identify new approaches to better unite progressive economic developments with the preservation of biodiversity and ecosystem functions. Animal migrations, which are often jeopardized by increasingly fragmented countryside, is an aspect of particular interest here. Dr. Müller will use the long-distance migration of gazelle in the eastern steppes of Mongolia as an example of this.