Dr. Ralf Schneider

Marine Evolutionary Ecology Group

Room 617

phone +49 (0) 431 880 1615

research interest

Being an evolutionary biologist by training, I am studying the diversity of life and how it came to be. With their outstanding diversity, teleosts have captured my interest early on. Understanding how and why phenotypes evolved requires an understanding of (among other things) an organism’s ecology, evolutionary history and development. Thus, I aim to integrate methods from various fields of biology to unravel the bases of phenotypes.

Syngnathid development

Syngnathids (pipefish and seahorses) feature extremely derived morphologies, including elongated snout-like facial bones, bony armour plates covering the body, fin loss and others. Most of these features develop in early ontogeny, a period typically concealed from the observed due to the syngnathids unique male pregnancy, in which eggs are brooded in specialized pouches. By studying this early period in development, I aim to understand which morphological and molecular processes underlie derived phenotypes in these fish.

Male pregnancy and the evolution of brooding organs

Syngnathids have uniquely evolved male pregnancy and females transfer unfertilized eggs to the male during mating. During mating, eggs are attached to the brooding organ of the males, which is located on the ventral side of the male’s trunk or tail. Brooding organs can be simple patches holding eggs by partially engulfing them with a specialized integument and where eggs remain mostly exposed to the surrounding sea water. But other species feature lateral skin flaps along the brooding organs that partially or completely cover the eggs, provide them with a protected microenvironment. Finally, seahorses feature the most derived brooding organs that likely even facilitate the transfer of nutrients and immunologically active molecules to the embryo. I aim to understand the morphological and molecular basis of the evolution of this organ using histology and single-cell transcriptomics.


Scientific contributions


      *equal contribution

Conference Contributions

  • Talk at the Larval Fish Conference 2021.
  • Talk at the Syngbio Meeting 2021.
  • Talk at the annual meeting of the German Zoological Society (DZG) 2018.
  • Talk at the Cichlid Science Meeting, Prague, 2017.
  • Poster at the annual meeting of the German Zoological Society (DZG) 2016.
  • Talk at the Cichlid Science Meeting, Graz, 2015.
  • Poster at the meeting of the European Society for Evolutionary Biology (ESEB), Lausanne, 2015.
  • Talk at the annual meeting of the German Zoological Society (DZG) 2014.
  • Talk at the European Society for Evolutionary Developmental Biology (EED) Conference, 2014.

Grants & Awards


  • DFG Grant SCHN 1654/2: PhD position and project costs.
  • Future Ocean Network Fund (co-applicant ): „Evolution of host defence and microbial virulence in marine disease“
  • DFG Grant in the SPP1819, 2018: substantial contribution; awarded to Prof. Axel Meyer.
  • DFG Grant in the SPP1819, 2015: substantial contribution, including funding for 1 year as PhD, 2 years as Post-Doc and research money; awarded to Prof. Axel Meyer.
  • IMPRS Student Travel Grant 1/2015
  • IMPRS Student Project Grant 1/2015
  • IMPRS Student Travel Grant 2/2015
  • IMPRS Student Project Grant 2/2015

Awards & Prizes

  • Best Poster award 2nd prize at the GBS Symposium in Konstanz, 2014.
  • IMPRS Shared Best Student Paper Award 2014.