The research of the working group focusses on the bio-diversity of protists, specifically of ciliates (Alveolata, Cilio-phora). The organisms are collected in a wide variety of habitats (sea, freshwater, soil). Newly discovered species are described, using state of the art methods, insufficiently known species are redescribed. The cell morphology, the patterns of cell division, the resting cysts, the conjugation processes, the cell ultrastructure as well as the chemical composition of the ciliate loricae and cysts are investigated by means of light microscopy (bright field, interference contrast, phase contrast), electron microscopy (scanning and transmission electron microscopy) and a wide spec-trum of histological staining techniques. Our computer-based cladistic analyses of the discovered characters provide together with the molecular phylogenies (barcoding) insights into the evolution and the adaptations of the ciliates as well as into their relationships. The latter are the basis for the systematics of these organisms. The biogeography of the ciliates is currently investigated, using DNA-metabarcoding in collaboration with colleagues of the TU Kaiserslautern (Germany) and Chinese partners. Several databanks facilitate the access to the about 80.000 micrographs and videos, the about 9.500 literature references, and the about 80.000 records of ciliate species.
The Austrian Science Fund (FWF) financially supports the several projects of the working group. Our research yields not only everlasting publications in peer-reviewed international journals, but also demonstrate that the protist diversity is an order of magnitude larger than previously assumed and that the vast majority of species are undescribed.
Since protists are crucial components of all food webs, species circumscriptions are essential for studies concerning the ecological role and geographic distribution of the species, especially, when the taxa are model organisms (e.g., Nobel Prices 1989 and 2009). Accordingly, taxonomic expertise combined with morphologic and molecular investigation techniques is indispensable and represents a promising biological discipline.
The studies of the AG Agatha are conducted with international collaboration. The students benefit from this strong scientific network, the participation in congresses with the presentation of own findings, and publications.
Students for Bachelor-, Master-, and Doctoral Thesis who are interested in the field of ciliate taxonomy and phylogeny are welcome and get an introduction in a wide spectrum of methods. Beyond the subject-specific aspects, the students obtain further competences concerning, e.g., scientific writing, poster and oral presentations on congresses, and the work with historical literature. The numerous prices for the best oral presentations and posters won by students of the AG Agatha in recent years speak for themselves.