skip to main content

Senckenberg Gesellschaft für Naturforschung (SGN)


Collections & Expertise

The scientific collections represent our key infrastructure for investigating changes in bio- and geodiversity in space and time. With about 38.5 million collection units (specimens and series), Senckenberg houses the largest natural history collection in Germany, ranking among the top five worldwide (after the Smithsonian and the museums in London, Paris and St. Petersburg). The oldest Senckenberg collections date back to the 16th century. These collections include minerals and other geological items, meteorites, and fossils as documents of paleo-biodiversity, as well as extensive collections of animals, plants, and fungi.

Department Collection highlights and staff expertise
Mineralogy Mineralogy (73,200 objects). Important collections of the mineral topography of Saxony with historic silver ores and   semi-precious stones as well as of Johann Christian Senckenberg (1707-1772) and Eduard Rüppel (1794-1884).
Petrography (78,400 objects). Large collection of rocks, mainly from Central Europe, including faceted and thin sections. The collection of building and decoration stones comprises internationally significant reference materials.
Paleontology Paleobotany (5,190,000 objects). One of the largest collections of Palaeogene (Eocene) plants. Collection of fossil palynomorphs from various localities, mainly from the Paleozoic. Leaves, fruits, seeds and wood, especially from Central European lignite deposits of Paleogene and Neogene age. Additionally, a comprehensive collection of microscopical specimens for anatomical studies of fossilized and recent plants exists.Most diverse Quaternary paleontological collections (318,000 objects) in Europe including large mammals, small mammals, plant macro remains and pollen.Paleozoology (5,790,000 objects). Comprising the whole variety of fossil invertebrates and vertebrates. In many parts outstanding in quantity and quality (e.g., brachiopods, bryozoans, conodonts, corals, foraminifers, mollusks, ostracodes, trilobites, vertebrates – and the diverse collection of Hunsrück Shale fossils).Amber collection (13,000 objects) covering various localities and various ages (e.g. baltic amber, dominican amber, mexican amber, copal from Madagascar), including large amber spider collection.Collection Messel Fossils (50,000 objects). The Messel Pit is a UNESCO-listed, middle Eocene locality near Frankfurt/Main. The Messel collection, situated in Frankfurt, covers mainly plants, insects and vertebrates.
Botany Herbarium Senckenbergianum (1,500,000 objects). The Herbarium Senckenbergianum covers all major algal, fungal and plant groups (vascular plants, bryophytes, lichenized and non-lichenized fungi, Characeae, diatoms, dinophytes).   It comprises the herbaria in Frankfurt/M. (FR), Görlitz (GLM), Weimar (IQW) and the Centre of Excellence for Dinophyte Taxonomy (CEDit, Wilhelmshaven) containing e.g. the type rich collections of diatoms (Lange-Berthalot), reindeer lichens (genus Cladonia, L. Scriba) and the vascular plant collection by E. Rueppell.
Zoology Bryozoa (300,000 objects). Largest collection of Cretaceous and Paleogene bryozoans worldwide, many of those extinct. Considerable collection of bryozoans from the North Sea, Red Sea, Socotra, Western Pacific and Antarctica, most of them accessible through the internet.Cnidaria & Porifera (22,700 objects). One of the largest octocoral collections worldwide.One of the major European Crustacea collections (440,000 objects). Worldwide largest decapod collection from Arabian Seas; largest collection of Japanese decapods outside Japan; comprehensive North Sea collection; one of the 4 worldwide major freshwater crab collections.Arachnida (702,000 objects). One of the largest arachnid collections worldwide.Mollusca (4,500,000 objects). The collection ranks among the ca. 10 largest and scientifically most important ones worldwide.

Ichthyology (122,000 objects). Contains several important historic collections of marine and freshwater species, most notably those of E. Rüppell from North Africa and Arabia.

Senckenberg´s Herpetology collections (183,000 objects) currently represent the largest of its kind in Germany.

Ornithology (209,000 objects).   Worldwide coverage with about 75% of the known bird species represented in skin collection.

Comparative recent and fossil Anthropology and Mammalogy collection (281,000 objects): GHR von Koenigswald; modern chimpanzee skulls; fossil mammals from Dinothere sands Eppelsheim and from Dorn-Dürkheim;   recent mammals from Central Europe, the Balkans, Africa, Central and South-East Asia.

Entomology Diptera (1,490,000 objects). World’s largest collection of Sciaroidea, Cecidomyiidae and Mycetophilidae.Hymenoptera (1,070,000 objects). The sawfly (“Symphyta”) collection comprises about 25% of all known species including the type-rich collection of F.W. Konow.Lepidoptera (2,550,000 objects) from Palearctic, Philippines, Madagscar and South America.Coleoptera (5,860,000 objects). Most important collection of   Cicindelidae worldwide (W. Horn) outstanding collections of e.g. Curculionoidea   (L. Dieckmann), Scarabaeidae (W. Horn), Staphylinidae (G. Kraatz, L. Zerche) and Curculionoidea (Kirsch). Thysanoptera (224,000 objects), one of the most important thrips collections worldwide, includes collections of zur Strassen, Karny, Priesner, Schliephake and Titschack.

Small insects orders (7,140,000 objects) including the very type-rich collection of Heteroptera and Auchenorrhyncha of G. Breddin.

Library The Senckenberg-Library is included into the University library of Frankfurt which is in the field of biology the largest of its kind in   Germany. Additional specialised work libraries exist in most of the sections   of the institute and are used for the actual local work. The entomological library at the SDEI in Müncheberg is internationally renowned for its completeness in old and rare entomological literature

Analytical Facilities and Services

Senckenberg utilizes a broad range of methods and research tools. Beside the “classical” toolkits, ranging from observational to classification tools, this includes a broad range of specialised laboratories and services:

• Genomic sequencing and analysis of DNA from historical and recent collections

Our molecular genetics laboratory centre is a state-of-the-art facility which handles more than 10,000 samples per month. Besides Senckenberg has several further molecular genetics laboratories specialised on e.g., ancient DNA, low-DNA or environmental-DNA.

• Organic and inorganic stable isotope mass spectrometry

Together with the University of Frankfurt Senckenberg is running the first (and currently only) isotope ratio mass spectrometer in Germany to measure the “clumping” of CO2 isotopologues as a proxy for paleotemperatures in carbonates. This method represents a frontier of science in geochemistry and is available at less than ten institutes worldwide.

• Geochronology

This lab focuses on in situ measurements of isotopes and trace elements by Laser Ablation Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS).

• Microcomputer tomography, scanning electron microscopy, and radiological and virtual 3D fossil investigation

Senckenberg houses a comprehensive set of biological (preparational, histological, soil and mesocosms) and geoscientific (e.g., X-Ray Diffractometry, X-Ray Fluorecence, thin-section, Scanning Electron Microscopy, X-ray microanalysis) laboratories.

For a full list of the equipment that Users can apply to use, click here.

Information Technology and Access

Senckenberg has a large Data and Modelling Centre (DMC) with state of the art hard- (Linux-clusters) and software (including phylogenetic programmes), and a dedicated IT-team to support internal and external users. The DMC provides access to high speed computing, data storage of biodiversity and climate data, methodological support, especially for generating, access to and handling of (paleo) climate data and databases, support for databases and meta-databases of available biodiversity data.

Research supported by the infrastructure

The Senckenberg research programme covers four main research fields:

  1. Biodiversity & Systematics
  2. Biodiversity & Ecosystems
  3. Biodiversity & Climate
  4. Biodiversity and Earth Systems dynamics