Birds can smell!
Despite the fact that songbirds have for a long time been thought to be anosmic, i.e. unable to perceive smells, more and more evidence accumulates that songbirds do not only have a sense of smell and use extrinsic odour cues for orientation, foraging and nest construction, but also make use of intrinsic cues for social communication.
Within our group we explore in which circumstances birds use their sense of smell and what kind of information is encoded in body odours. For example, zebra finches are able to perceive and react to olfactory cues. Adult females prefer the odour of their own nest during the nestling phase of their chicks but do not show a preference once their juveniles have fledged. Zebra finch fledglings are able to distinguish their own nest from a foreign nest using olfactory cues alone and are also able to recognise the nest of their genetic origin.
We do not only work on zebra finches, but also on other estridild finches, on blue tits and on plovers.
One of our research focusses on the impact of skin microbes on odour production. It is still unclear why genetic similar individuals smell more similar. One possibility is that the skin microbe community, which is potentially invovled in body odour production is shaped by the genotype.
As part of the new funded Collaborative Research Center, we are investigating niche conformance in fire salamander larvae.
In a very recent paper ( in collaboration with two cohorts of students from the Spezialmodul) we found that the amount of yellow is dependent on early nutritional conditions. Being more yellowish seems to be advantageous for metamorphosed fire salamanders, as clay models with more yellow have a lower attack rate compared to clay models with less yellow.