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  • Behavioural Ecology

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Team

Prof. Dr. Barbara Caspers

Telephone
+49 521 106-2825
Telephone secretary
+49 521 106-2837
Room
VHF-345

I am a behavioural ecologist mainly interested in the function and mechanism of chemical communication,  the evolution of chemical cues in vertebrates and how relatedness is encoded in body odours and the impact of microbes on communication.

Thanks to a Freigeist Fellowship of the VolkswagenFoundation I am currently investigating the function and mechanism of olfactory kin recognition in zebra finches, trying to understand how relatedness is signaled in body odours. With a combination of behavioural experiments, chemical analysis of body odours and skin microbe community analysis  I am aiming to gain knowledge on this question.

I am working on different taxa such as amphibians, birds and mammals, including humans.

Research Interests

  • Avian Olfaction - The impact of chemical communication in songbirds (and others), and how is relatedness encoded in body odours?
  • Host microbe interactions - What is the role of bacteria on body odours and kin recognition?
  • Niche choice and niche conformance in fire salamanders.

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Dr. Öncü Maraci

Research Interests

I am a molecular biologist by training, with a broad interested in behavioural ecology and evolution. Currently, I am studying the interactions between animals and their microbial symbionts.  I am fascinated by the potency of microbial symbionts in modulating a wide range of biological processes of their hosts. I am particularly interested in the ways that microbial symbionts influence the behaviour and adaptive capacity of their hosts. My ongoing project aims to identify the factors shaping gut microbial communities in two estrildid finch species: the zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) and Bengalese finch (Lonchura striata domestica). I am trying to disentangle the environmental factors from host-specific factors, most importantly host genetics, to understand whether individual microbial communities are a trait of an animal itself. This information would allow us to further evaluate the potential function of gut symbionts in the social communication of the birds. Furthermore, as a part of a collaborative project, I am investigating the impact of anthropogenic perturbations on the gut microbiota of birds. In the scope of this project, we are studying the gut microbial communities in great tits (Parus major) across a gradient of urbanisation to understand whether gut microbes can facilitate the adaptation of their animal hosts to anthropogenic stress.


Shortlinks

  • Publications

Dr. Isabel Damas Moreira

Telephone
+49 521 106-2832
Room
VHF-390

Research Interests

  • A
  • B

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Kathrin Engel

Telephone
+49 521 106-2194
Room
VHF-394

Research Interests

I am a veterinarian and in addition to my interest in animal health and welfare, I have a great interest in animal behaviour, ecology and microbiology. 

In my PhD project, I investigate the skin microbiome of different bird species. Besides known pathogens, there is a vast number of bacteria on the bodies of all kinds of animals whose ecology and function is not yet understood, especially in avian taxa. I am particularly interested in the compositions of bacterial communities on the skin of different species, social groups and individuals. Further, I aim to explore how bacterial colonisation develops during ontogeny and whether environmental or genetic factors are the main drivers for the formation of group-specific bacterial communities. I am fascinated by the idea that volatiles emitted by bacteria on the skin may be important in shaping a bird’s body odour and therefore communicating information on the individual to conspecifics.


Research Interests

  • A
  • B

Barbara Fuchs

Telephone
+49 521 106-67929
Room
VHF-393

Shortlinks

Marc Gilles

Telephone
+49 521 106-2193
Room
VHF-392

Research Interests

I am a young researcher in behavioural ecology, mainly interested by the evolution of birds’ behaviour and physiology.

I got my Master degree at the University of Strasbourg (France) and performed my Master thesis at the University of Turku (Finland), during which I studied the effects of early food availability on the behavioural development of fledglings in blue tits.

During my PhD, I aim to unravel the evolutionary role of preen gland and its secretions. 

Preen gland (also called ‘uropygial gland’) is a holocrine gland exclusively and commonly found in birds. It secretes a waxy mixture (called ‘preen oil’) which birds spread on their plumage with their bill. This preening behaviour helps maintaining the structure of feathers, waterproofing and protecting against ectoparasites. But there is more to it! Preen gland gets bigger during reproduction and, in parallel, preen oil composition changes. Differences in preen oil composition translates in differences in the smell of birds, therefore the smell of a bird changes during reproduction, but for what?

(1) Intra-specific communication: mate choice and parent-offspring communication (because birds also have a good sense of smell)

(2) Protection against olfactory-searching mammalian predators via ‘olfactory crypsis’ 

(3) Protection against eggshell bacteria

To investigate these potential functions of a seasonal change in preen oil composition, I will study 3 species of plovers(Charadrius sp.) which breed in Madagascar (Kittlitz’s plover, white-fronted plover and Madagascar plover). To do so, I will combine chemical analyses (GC-MS), behavioural experiments (Y-maze), microbial analyses, and nest monitoring and manipulation. 


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Pia Oswald

Telephone
+49 521 106-2809
Room
VHF-391

Research Interests

As a behavioural ecologist I am interested in the behaviour of animals with regard to ecological factors. I was raised in a small city with the German word for “croak” (the sound frogs are producing) in its name and a frog as the city mascot. Thus, it was kind of fate that my research was directed to the field of herpetology, specifically amphibians. Starting with conservation genetics of the European tree frog, I continued with the investigation of genetic diversity and infections with a fungal pathogen in yellow-bellied toads. Currently, I work with fire salamanders as part of a collaborative research centre (SFB-TRR 212: A Novel Synthesis of Individualisation across Behaviour, Ecology and Evolution: Niche Choice, Niche Conformance, Niche Construction (NC³)). In our study population, females choose a specific habitat for their offspring (either ponds or streams) which corresponds to a genetic clustering within the population. Those two larval habitats provide different selective pressures for the salamander larvae which might drive the need for adaptive responses.

I am trying to understand how the mother’s choice for a larval habitat influences the larvae’s morphology and behaviour from the larval stage until adulthood. Therefore, I investigate the development and survival as well as different traits such the dorsal skin pattern and the behaviour of fire salamander larvae before and after metamorphosis.



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