12th Annual Meeting of the Ethological Society
From Sensory Perception to Behaviour
Bonn, February 22nd-24th, 2017

Plenary Speakers

Dr. Markus Knaden
Department of Evolutionary Neuroethology, MPI for Chemical Ecology, Jena

Markus Knaden started his work on insect behavior already during his diploma thesis in Bonn, when he investigated decision making in subsocial beetles. From then on, and especially when he started to work on the desert ant Cataglyphis, Markus was fascinated how insects with their small brains often become much better navigators than humans.

Since 2006 Markus is a group leader at the Max Planck Institute for Chemical Ecology in Jena focusing on odor-guided behavior in flies, moths, and ants. Flies, i.e. Drosophila, offer great molecular tools to e.g. shut down whatever pathway to investigate its involvement in a specific task. Regarding flies and moths, Markus’ group is trying to understand the valence of olfactory cues. Why are some odors innately attractive or repellent, what is their ecological relevance, and which neuronal circuits are involved from detection to decision making? While the desert ant Cataglyphis fortis does not offer elaborate molecular tools yet, it still has become a famous model just because of its fantastic navigational performance. Current research in Markus' group is focusing on how olfaction helps individual ants to localize food and find their way back to the nest after up to 1500m-long foraging journeys.

Dr. Alexander Kotrschal
Department of Zoology, Stockholm University, Sweden

Alexander Kotrschal is a Biologist with a strong interest in both Animal Behaviour and Evolution. His topics range from phenotypic plasticity of behaviour and physiology to the evolution of brain size and cognitive ability. he predominantly works with fish - be it cichlids from Lake Tanganyika, Salmon from Canada and Sweden, or Guppies from Trinidad - but has also worked with wild house mice and nightingales.

As a previous Erwin Schrödinger fellow (Austrian Science Fund) he was involved in a large-scale experiment in which he experimentally investigated brain size evolution of vertebrates. After determining the costs and benefits of a large brain using artificial brain size selection in Guppies at Uppsala University, Sweden, he moved to the Konrad Lorenz Institute of the Veterinary School in Vienna to investigate how animals with large and small brains perform in a naturalistic setting and whether they differ in immunity. At Stockholm University (since autumn 2014) he continues to pursue a number of questions with those large- and small-brained fish. Currently he is a forskare in a Wallenberg project investigating the basis of sociality, which includes another artificial selection approach with guppies.

Prof. Dr. Theresa Burt de Perera
Department of Zoology, University of Oxford,

Theresa Burt de Perera is an Associate Professor in the Department of Zoology, University of Oxford and a Tutorial Fellow at St John’s College. Prior to this she was awarded a Royal Society Dorothy Hodgkin Research Fellowship, a L’Oreal UK Women in Science Fellowship and the EPA Junior Research Fellowship at Keble College in Oxford. Before that she worked as a postdoc in the Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico for one year after completing her D.Phil. in the Department of Zoology, Oxford in 1998.

Feats of animal navigation fascinate lay people and scientists alike, and are often key to animals’ survival and success. Theresa’s group investigates how individuals sense, learn and remember information from their local environments and how they use this information to orient efficiently.

She is particularly interested in how fish navigate in three dimensions (a difficult task for AI systems and humans). She studies this problem in two broad, but overlapping streams of research that aim to discover: 1) how spatial information is sensed, and 2) how a representation of volumetric space is acquired and encoded. These questions sit at the interface of ethology, psychology and neuroethology, and she uses techniques borrowed from all three disciplines to answer them.

Prof. Dr. Molly Cummings
Department of Integrative Biology, University of Texas at Austin

Molly Cummings is a Professor of Integrative Biology at the University of Texas at Austin, USA. Her research blends sensory ecology, neuroethology and behavioral genomics to identify mechanisms of divergence in communication, behavior and cognitive traits. She has conducted field and laboratory experiments with frogs and fishes, with a particular emphasis on freshwater poeciliid fishes since 2001.

For the past decade, Dr. Cummings has been using behavioral genomics to uncover the neurogenomic pathway of mate choice decisions in poeciliid fishes.  Initial research with the northern swordtail, Xiphophorus nigrensis (a female mate choice taxa), implicated learning and memory pathways involved in female mate choice decisions.  Interestingly, these same gene pathways are differentially engaged (suppressed during interactions with males) in a closely related poeciliid with a male coercion mating system (Gambusia affinis). Current research in her laboratory examines the cognitive and behavioral trade-offs associated with differences in mating systems by characterizing activity, anxiety, sociability, boldness and general cognitive abilities across poeciliid fish species.

Prof. Dr. Volker Dürr
Bielefeld University, Germany

Volker Dürr is professor for Biological Cybernetics at Bielefeld University, Germany, where he is also principal investigator Centre of Excellence on Cognitive Interaction Technology (CITEC). The main objective of his research is how animals achieve autonomous, context-dependent control of behaviour through active interaction with their environment. For this, he combines methods from behavioural physiology, neurophysiology, computational modelling and biomimetics. In the past years, his lab focused on active tactile exploration, spatial coordination and distributed proprioception in insect locomotion.

Prof. Dr. Johan J. Bolhuis
Department of Psychology, University of Utrecht


Johan J. Bolhuis is full professor of Cognitive Neurobiology at the Departments of Psychology and Biology, Utrecht University, The Netherlands. He obtained his PhD in Zoology (cum laude) at the University of Groningen, The Netherlands, and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Universities of Edinburgh and Cambridge, UK. He was Asscociate Professor at Leiden University, The Netherlands. He has served as an editor of Animal Behaviour, and as president of the Royal Dutch Zoological Society and is currently Editor-in-Chief of Behavioural Processes and Academic Editor of PloS One and Scientific Reports. He was awarded the Zoology Prize of the Royal Dutch Zoological Society in 2001. His main research interests are in the behavioural, neural and cognitive mechanisms of learning, memory and development. His current research is focused on the neural mechanisms of song learning in songbirds, and the parallels with human speech and language, on which he published two reviews in Nature Reviews Neuroscience. In addition, he has a theoretical interest in the relationship between evolution, cognition, and the brain, on which he published essays in Nature and PLoS Biology. He is editor or co-editor of seven books on animal behaviour and cognitive neuroscience, including Brain, Perception, Memory (OUP, 2000), in honour of Sir Gabriel Horn, and the forthcoming Birdsong, Speech, and Language (MIT Press, 2013). Together with Luc-Alain Giraldeau he is editor of the university textbook The Behavior of Animals (Blackwell, 2005).