New "Hochschulraumstrukturmittel (HRSM)"-Project (March 7th, 2017)
New "Interdisciplinary Research Networks"-Project funded by the Faculty of Lifesciences
(October 27th, 2016)
Flower visiting beetles as potential pollinators.
Harald Krenn, Department of Integrative Zoology
Jürg Schönenberger, Department of Botany and Biodiversity Research
New FWF-Project (September 5th, 2016)
Mollusca is a highly diverse animal group that includes popular representatives such as the gastropods (snails and slugs), cephalopods (squids and octopuses), and bivalves (oysters, cockles, clams), as well as lesser-known groups such as worm-like forms (the aplacophorans) or the polyplacophorans with eight shell plates. Being one of the most diverse assemblages of animals, molluscs are ideally suited for evolutionary studies into how morphological variation may evolve. However, data on their development using modern methods such as gene expression analyses or high-end microscopy techniques are still scarce, especially for the bivalves, which, in addition to their relevance for evolutionary studies, are also of considerable economic value as an important protein resource. The present project will combine morphological analyses such as fluorescence labeling, various microscopy applications, and 3D-reconstruction software in order to reconstruct the development of important organ systems during development from the free-swimming larva to the settled, benthic juvenile in the local species Dreissena polymorpha (commonly known as zebra mussel). These data will aid in achieving the central goal of the study, which is to reveal the expression of important genes (the Hox and ParaHox genes) in the respective developmental stages of this bivalve. By comparing the obtained data to the few accounts available for gastropods and cephalopods, we will significantly contribute to the question as to whether these genes are expressed in similar body regions and/or organ systems as in their related groups (and therefore are likely to serve similar functions), or whether the Hox and ParaHox genes may have putative different functions in bivalves. Despite these evolutionary questions, this project will also be of relevance for environmental, ecological, and economical issues, because Dreissena is an important biofouling species that attaches by aid of their so-called byssus threads to, e.g., water and sewage pipelines (which may lead to clogging of these systems). In addition, these animals are highly efficient filter-feeders with a high reproductive output, which has led to severe decline of other local species in Northern America and Europe (e.g., endangered unionid bivalves). The gene sequence data generated in this project may also be used in numerous other future projects, e.g., those concerned with unraveling the protein composition of the above-mentioned delicate, yet sturdy, byssus threads, an emerging biomaterial of putative high potential for the applied physical sciences.
New Schrödinger Grant (March 8th, 2016)
Little is known about population-wide social structure in amphibians, which are generally considered as the least social vertebrates and assumed to lack the cognitive capabilities for ‘higher’ sociality as a result of their small brains. Nevertheless amphibians show a wide array of social behaviours and especially poison frogs dispose of most, if not all, behavioural prerequisites that accompany longer lasting social structures. In the current project I want to investigate the prevalence and consequences of social structures in a captive and a semi-natural population of the territorial poison frog Allobates femoralis. I will monitor both populations with microphone arrays to continuously record calling behaviour and interactions, and conduct extensive behavioural observations in the field. The field study will employ a state-of-the-art embedded, wireless sensor network with sound source localization and acoustic caller identification. Using social network analysis I will then explore and quantify structures in the communication and social network of these populations. For the natural population I will finally correlate individual network metrics with reproductive success to investigate the influence of an individuals’ position in its social network on its reproductive fitness. The proposed project is exceptional in taking an integrative approach to investigate social structure and its consequences in an amphibian using state-of-the-art technology and social network analysis in both a fully controlled laboratory population and a semi-natural field population. The proposed project shall also pioneer the further development of sensor networks for studies on sociality and promote their use in behavioural research.
FWF Firnberg-Programm for Eva Ringler (July 21, 2014)
Studies on behavioural flexibility in animals have largely focussed on ‘higher’ vertebrates, i.e. mammals, birds and fish. Amphibians have traditionally been assumed to be highly instinct-bound with highly stereotyped behaviour. Due to the lack of research in this field, little is known about cognitive processes in amphibians, such as strategic planning and behavioural flexibility. The general aim of the proposed project is to investigate mechanisms of behavioural flexibility in anuran amphibians. I plan to perform a set of field and laboratory experiments on two anuran model species. Comparing the results to findings in other taxa will provide important insights into the evolution of behavioural plasticity in parental care and sexual selection, not only in anuran amphibians but also in vertebrates in general. Poison frogs (Dendrobatidae) show a remarkable diversity of parental behaviour and recent research has demonstrated the presence of behavioural plasticity in tadpole deposition strategies for several dendrobatid species. The dendrobatid frog Allobates femoralis is widely used as a model organism for research on behaviour, population genetics, ecology and evolution. Observations in the field and preliminary experiments in the lab indicate that A. femoralis females show behavioural plasticity with respect to tadpole transport. Although tadpole transport is performed almost exclusively by males, females flexibly take over parental duties in the event of male absence. In contrast, A. femoralis males probably exhibit a fixed action pattern with regard to tadpole transport, transporting all clutches within their territorial boundaries, regardless of whether they are their genetic fathers. In the proposed project I shall investigate the mechanisms that trigger female parental behaviour, e.g. acoustic or spatial properties of the male advertisement call. The work will provide the first evidence for spontaneous behavioural flexibility in a uni-parental species with generally fixed sex-specific parental roles. One of the fundamental prerequisites of behavioural plasticity is the ability to perceive, identify and respond to changes in the environment. Studies in mammals including humans have assigned specific regions in the brain to stereotyped and highly flexible behaviours and have shown that differential activation potentials are elicited in the associated areas of the brain. I plan to perform functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) using a manganese-enhanced protocol to localize and quantitatively map differences in metabolic brain activity when processing familiar and novel (acoustic and visual) stimuli in the Northern Leopard Frog Rana (Lithobates) pipiens. This will be the first functional brain imaging study on an amphibian species and will investigate for the first time the representation of a novel stimulus in a non-primate vertebrate. As amphibians are considered to be the most basal vertebrate group, my findings will provide important implications on the neuronal structures required for the evolution of flexible behaviour.
NOBIS Grant 2013 (November 29, 2013)
Assessment of the gene order diversity in the mitochondrial genomes of Bivalvia (Mollusca) and its significance for phylogenetic inference.
P 16954 Einzelprojekte
decision board: 2003/10/06
Evolutionary correlates of bioacoustic diversity in the Amazonian poison-dart frog Epipedobates (Allobates) femoralis.
P 15345 Einzelprojekte
decision board: 2001/11/26
Community structure, communication and behavioural ecology in frogs and reptiles inhabiting a rain forest canopy.
P 11565 Einzelprojekte
decision board: 1995/11/27