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International Field School on Biodiversity Genomics at the Dry Limit, September 2023

In a collaborative effort between the Universidad de Chile (represented by Prof. Dr. Miguel Allende and his team from the Center of Genome Regulation) and the University of Cologne (the team of the CRC1211 project B08), the International Field School on Biodiversity Genomics at the Dry Limit brought together a diverse group of scientists, students, and local stakeholders in San Pedro de Atacama from the 24th to the 30th of September 2023. The aim was to train methods and exchange knowledge on the complexities of genomic diversity, particularly in extreme environments such as the Atacama Desert, and to foster collaboration between international researchers and local communities.




The main aspects of the field school were training and knowledge transfer. Therefore, 18 researchers from seven different institutions in Germany and Chile and 18 students from Germany, Chile, and Colombia participated to facilitate a productive exchange. The program included a comprehensive overview of the biodiversity genomics methodological process, covering sample collection, DNA isolation, library preparation, whole-genome sequencing and data analysis. Participating students, ranging from undergraduates to PhD students, gained hands-on experience through field trips, laboratory work, data analysis and gained insights into the genomic basis of adaptive traits across different taxa.

Recognizing the critical importance of building early awareness and understanding of biodiversity in the local community, the field school expanded its outreach to schools in San Pedro. Students from Licéo Lican Antay de San Pedro and the school of Taconao joined the field school for excursions and field work. For laboratory work, they provided their biology laboratory facilities at the San Pedro school, enabling a unique and valuable exchange between pupils, students, and scientists. This initiative not only benefited local students but also provided university students with experience in teaching and effective science communication.

The field school participants went on excursions with the indigenous community Lican Antay de Taconao to locations in the Atacama Desert that bear a traditional and spiritual importance to the community. These excursions allowed the group to understand indigenous traditions, spiritual values, and conservation activities. Representatives from CONAF (Corporación Nacional Forestal) also participated, highlighting the conservation efforts and regulations in the area. The interaction and dialogue between scientists, the indigenous community and CONAF led to a mutual understanding of each other's activities and fostered a common interest in preserving the unique ecosystem.

The International Field School on Biodiversity Genomics at the Dry Limit has established a strong foundation for future research in the Atacama Desert, that is transparent and beneficial to all stakeholders. This field school has set the stage for ongoing partnerships to access, share, and interpret FAIR data. The outcomes of this initiative promise a positive impact on biodiversity conservation, scientific understanding, and community engagement in the Atacama region.

Gallery 1
Gallery 1: Teaching. Hands-on experience in laboratory work and interactive lectures for participants and local students. Places: Licéo Lican Antay de San Pedro and Hostel in San Pedro (lectures).

  Gallery 2
Gallery 2: Field trips and sampling. Trips to unique locations with participants and students from local school. Demonstration and hands-on practice of different sampling techniques. Exchange with representatives from CONAF and the indigenous community Lican Antay de Taconao.





XVI Congreso Geológico Chileno 2023

CRC 1211 participated with a large special session ‘Evolution de la Tierra en el Límite Árido’, at the XVI CONGRESO GEOLÓGICO CHILENO 2023, with three oral blocks over two days, and a poster session. The conference participation by many members of the CRC was very fruitful for scientific exchange and establishing/fostering scientific contacts with Chilean colleagues of all career levels.

XVI Congreso Geológico Chileno 2023
XVI Congreso Geológico Chileno 2023

  XVI Congreso Geológico Chileno 2023
Meeting with the Geological Survey of Chile (Sernageomin).





Irrigation experiment of B02 and Z03 in August 2023

In August 2023, members of subprojects Z03 and B02 conducted a comprehensive field irrigation experiment in the Paposo area. The experiment took place on top of an alluvial fan surface, where previous investigations of subproject B02 showed the presence of three species of the rain-depended darkling beetle of the genus Gyriosomus after the 2017 El Niño rainfall period (cf. Zúñiga-Reinoso et al., 2019). The experiment was carried out in cooperation with subprojects B04 and B08 and aimed at provoking ecosystem response to different precipitation amounts and at defining thresholds for each species of Gyriosomus to activate the metamorphosis and develop adult specimen as previously observed. Altogether eight plots of 5x4 m size were irrigated with demineralized water using a portable irrigation device designed by Z03. The different plots received 0 mm, 20 mm (20 l/m2), 40 mm (40 l/m2) and 60 mm (20 l/m2) rainfall between 22nd and 29th August 2023, thus simulating a 8 day-long rainfall period. After the experiment, the fenced plots were equipped with pitfall traps in order to collect only those epigean insects that eclosed due to the irrigation. Pre- and post-irrigation soil samples were taken for analysis of nematode (B08) and microbial (B04) activity, and the plots are further monitored by soil moisture sensors and time lapse cameras in order to reconstruct timing and extent of irrigation-triggered soil moisture and plant growth. Post-irrigation monitoring and insect collection will continue for 3 months after irrigation.


Delivery of 8000 l water to the experimental site
Delivery of 8000 l water to the experimental site

  The experimental field
The experimental field included 8 fenced plots, soil moisture loggers and a meteorological station
Photo: M. May


Delivery of 8000 l water to the experimental site
Artificial rainfall

  Artificial rainfall
Waiting for the rain to stop...


Developing plant cover
Developing plant cover ~1 week after irrigation started
R. Predel

  Flowering plants on a 60 mm plot
Flowering plants on a 60 mm plot ~5 weeks after last irrigation
A. Jara


Gyriosomus camanchaca
Gyriosomus camanchaca found on a 40 mm plot ~1 month after last irrigation
A. Jara

  The irrigation group
The irrigation group during after-work-BBQ (M. May = inlay)
M. May


Desert rainfall - some impressions
M. May

The Gobabeb molecular lab has been launched

The molecular lab at Gobabeb – Namib Research Institute was established (in August 2023) with support of the CRC1211 and as an initiative of the Nees Institute for Plant Biodiversity, University of Bonn, and the CRC-B-cluster.

The present molecular facilities will enable collaborators and students to process biological samples starting from DNA/RNA-isolation to DNA/RNA-amplification, including quality control and documentation via agarose gel electrophoresis. We are glad that the functionality of the new molecular facilities could be successfully tested during the Summer School 2023 (see separate news item) at Gobabeb.










Summer School 2023

In August 2023, 15 MSc/PhD students from various Southern African countries joint the FRAMe (SASSCAL, BMBF) initiated Summer School “A phylogenetics training workshop” at the Namib Research Institute Gobabeb, which was supported by the CRC1211. The one-week Summer School aimed at introducing the rapidly developing methods in the field of modern biodiversity research, both in the laboratory and at the computer. Sources of information treated ranged from Sanger sequences, through genotyping-by-sequencing (GBS) approaches, to single molecule real time (SMRT) sequencing and beyond. Thus, the participants gained a fundamental understanding of molecular evolutionary processes governing changes in DNA sequences, and developed skills in the application of this information to phylogenetic, biogeographic and evolutionary questions.


Members of the B-cluster (Julia Bechtler (RPTU; GER), Terry Hedderson (UCT; RSA), Dietmar Quandt (UoB, GER)), designed a week of training that included exposure of the participants to the theoretical background as well as to practical training using the newly established molecular lab at Gobabeb (wet lab) and the latest software available (dry lab). The program benefited from lectures and student interactions of collaborative partners, such as Ezekeil Kwembeya & Ezequiel Fabiano (both UNAM; NAM), Jim Leebens-Mack (UGA; USA), Eshchar Mizrachi (UP/FABI; NAM) and Eugene Marais (Gobabeb; NAM). Not to mention the great organization and support by Gillian Maggs-Kölling (Gobabeb; NAM) and the Gobabeb - Namib Research Institute and its facilities.


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Sound installation "Taubes Gestein / Maltreated Rocks",

a Tonaufnahmen Cristina Dorador 350px
a Tonaufnahmen Cristina Dorador 350px
a Tonaufnahmen Cristina Dorador 350px
a Tonaufnahmen Cristina Dorador 350px
a Tonaufnahmen Cristina Dorador 350px
a Tonaufnahmen Cristina Dorador 350px

The Bonn City Sound Artists 2023 Roswitha von den Driesch and Jens-Uwe Dyffort, sponsored by the Beethoven Foundation for Art and Culture of the Federal City of Bonn, took part in the 2022 research excursion to the Atacama Desert with biologists, geologists and climate researchers from the international CRC1211 collaborative research project "Earth Evolution at the dry limit".

Jens-Uwe Dyffort was able to record a variety of sounds of rock fractures. These recordings now form an essential part of their current sound installation "Taubes Gestein / Maltreated Rocks", which can currently be experienced at the SACO Art Biennial 1.1 in the Museo Ruinas de Huanchaca (Antofagasta). This also led to many interesting discussions, especially with Prof. Eduardo Campos / Universidad Católica del Norte (Antofagasta), whom Jens-Uwe Dyffort was able to accompany as a passenger in the car during the 2022 research excursion.

The sound installation "Taubes Gestein / Maltreated Rocks" (2023) can be experienced at the Museo Ruinas de Huanchaca (Antofagasta) until September 15, 2023.

Based on conversations with Prof. Dr. Cristina Dorador / Universidad de Antofagasta and her research on the microbial activity of salt deserts in northern Chile, Roswitha von den Driesch and Jens-Uwe Dyffort were able to make sound recordings during an excursion with her to the Atacama Desert on June 23, 2023. To do this, they installed small microphones under the crusty surface of the earth that acoustically recorded the activity of the ground overnight. Some of the recordings and impressions of the landscape have been incorporated into their current sound installation "Distant Water" in the Kurfürstliches Gärtnerhaus Bonn.

The sound installation "Entferntes Wasser" can be experienced until September 24, 2023, during the Beethovenfest at the Kurfürstliches Gärtnerhaus Bonn.



Die Bonner Stadtklangkünstler 2023 Roswitha von den Driesch und Jens-Uwe Dyffort, gefördert von der Beethovenstiftung für Kunst und Kultur der Bundesstadt Bonn nahmen an der Forschungsexkursion 2022 in die Atacama-Wüste mit Biologen, Geologen und Klimaforschern des internationalen Sonderforschungsprojekts CRC1211 „Earth Evolution at the dry limit“ teil.

Jens-Uwe Dyffort konnte dabei vielfältige Klänge von Gesteinsbrechungen aufnehmen. Diese Aufnahmen bilden jetzt einen wesentlichen Teil ihrer aktuellen Klanginstallation “Taubes Gestein / Maltreated Rocks” die  aktuell auf der SACO Kunstbiennale 1.1 im Museo Ruinas de Huanchaca (Antofagasta) zu erleben ist. Daraus folgend ergaben sich auch viele interessante Gespräche insbesondere mit Prof. Eduardo Campos / Universidad Católica del Norte (Antofagasta), den Jens-Uwe Dyffort während der Forschungsexkursion 2022 als Beifahrer im Auto begleiten konnte.

Die Klanginstallation »Taubes Gestein / Maltreated Rocks« (2023) ist noch bis zum 15. September 2023 im Museo Ruinas de Huanchaca (Antofagasta) zu erleben.

Ausgehend von Gesprächen mit Prof. Dr. Cristina Dorador / Universidad de Antofagasta und ihren Forschungen über die mikrobielle Aktivität von Salzwüsten im Norden Chiles konnten Roswitha von den Driesch und Jens-Uwe Dyffort während eines Ausflugs mit ihr in die Atacama Wüste am 23. Juni 2023 Tonaufnahmen machen. Dazu haben sie unter der krustigen Erdoberfläche kleine Mikrofone installiert die über Nacht die Aktivität des Bodens akustisch aufzeichneten. Einige Aufnahmen und landschaftliche Eindrücke sind mit in ihre aktuelle Klanginstallation “Entferntes Wasser“ im Kurfürstlichen Gärtnerhaus Bonn eingeflossen.

Die Klanginstallation “Entferntes Wasser“ ist bis zum 24. September 2023, während des Beethovenfestes im Kurfürstlichen Gärtnerhaus Bonn zu erleben.


Prof. Dr. Tibor J. Dunai
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne
Zülpicher Str. 49b | 50674 Cologne
+49 (0)221 470-3229 | tdunai@uni-koeln.de
  Managing Director:
Christian Tiede
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne

Zülpicher Str. 49b | 50674 Cologne
+49 (0)221 470-89833 | christian.tiede@uni-koeln.de


Prof. Dr. Martin Melles
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne

Zülpicher Str. 49a | 50674 Cologne
+49 (0)221 470-2262 | mmelles@uni-koeln.de
  Scientific Coordinator:
Dr. Benedikt Ritter
Institute of Geology and Mineralogy | University of Cologne

Zülpicher Str. 49b | 50674 Cologne
+49 (0)221 470-89868 | benedikt.ritter@uni-koeln.de


Prof. Dr. Dietmar Quandt
Nees Institute for Biodiversity of Plants | University of Bonn

Meckenheimer Allee 170 | 53115 Bonn
+49 (0)228 73-3315 | quandt@uni-bonn.de
Tim Schlüter
Institute of Geography | University of Cologne

Otto-Fischer-Str. 4 | 50674 Cologne
+49 (0)221 470-3735 | webmaster@sfb1211.de
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