Meet our team

Jan Ache
Neurobiology and Genetics

In order to survive in an ever-changing, complex world, animals need be able to flexibly respond to sensory stimuli in a context-dependent way. Despite the ubiquitous importance of behavioral flexibility, its neuronal underpinnings are poorly understood. Jan M. Ache (Junior Group Leader at the Department of Neurobiology and Genetics) and his lab are trying to unravel the neuronal mechanisms enabling flexible, adaptive behavior. To this end, they are combining cutting-edge methods such as detailed circuit reconstruction, optogenetics and in-vivo physiology in behaving fruit flies. Currently, they are focusing on the effects of internal states on descending motor pathways.

Peter Biedermann
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

The DFG funded Emmy-Noether group by Peter Biedermann is working towards a better understanding of the ecology and evolution of social behaviour in insects and symbioses between insects and microbial organisms. A major focus lies on unraveling the mechanisms that have repeatedly selected for sociality and fungus farming in bark and ambrosia beetles. In addition, the group is also heavily engaged in public communication of biodiversity decline and applied conservation projects in Würzburg (e.g. Living Campus Initiative).

Juliano Sarmento Cabral
Ecosystem Modeling, Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology (CCTB)

Juliano Sarmento Cabral leads the Ecosystem Modeling research group and pursues the understanding of the processes underlying the origin, maintenance and spatiotemporal dynamics of biodiversity across scales, from local to global, and across levels of ecological organization, from individuals, over populations, species, communities, and metacommunities up to biomes. The working group applies a range of methods, including field work, data analyses and macroecology, but focuses on mechanistic simulation modeling. The developed mechanistic models for virtual life can be used for theory testing, improving empirical sampling designs, understanding complex process interactions, and predicting biodiversity response to natural drivers and human-induced environmental change.

Alice Claßen
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

Alice Claßen is a macroecologist with a passion for insect pollinators and elevational gradients around the world. She currently aims to understand the mechanisms and limits of alpine insect adaptation to climate change at different levels of biological organisation. Together with her junior research group ADAPT, which is part of the Bavarian Climate Research Network, she investigates how alpine insect communities change over time and searches for the traits that mediate adaptation. She is also interested in the molecular basis of climate adaptation and will soon start exploring the transcriptome of bumblebees that were collected in different climatic regimes.

Charlotte Förster
Neurobiology and Genetics

Charlotte Förster is Professor and chair of Neurobiology and Genetics. Her main research interests are to decipher the circadian clock on the molecular and neuronal network level, to understand how it is synchronized to the environmental cycles on earth (mainly to the Zeitgebers light and temperature) and how it controls behaviour. Most of their studies use the fruitfly Drosophila melanogaster, but she is also examining the neuronal network of the circadian clock of other insects, mainly other Drosophilids, aphids and social insects that show a photoperiodic diapause.

Peter Gallant
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

Peter Gallant studies pathways that direct animal growth during normal development, as well as the pathological proliferation of cancerous cells. A particular focus lies on the powerful proto-oncogene Myc and the molecular mechanisms that control the transcription of its target genes during development and disease. For this research , he uses Drosophila melanogaster both a as a paradigm for animal growth and as a model system for cancer.

Claudia Groh
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

My research interest is the neuronal basis of behavior with a main focus on mechanisms of developmental and adult plasticity in the insect brain. Social insects are favorable model systems to study these aspects because of a multitude of sensory and behavioral adaptations. In order to understand how the nervous system is able to process and store sensory information, knowledge of the connections and properties of neurons within microcircuits is required. To investigate synaptic structural plasticity in the insect brain, I combine behavioral studies with neuroanatomical techniques (immunocytochemistry, advanced electron microscopy).

Andrea Holzschuh
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

My main interest is to understand how human activities influence insect biodiversity, species interactions and ecosystem functioning. The main focus is on wild bees, hoverflies and insect-pollinated plants, but I am also interested in herbivore-plant interactions, predators and parasitoids. My research is related to the fields of agroecology, sport ecology, urban ecology and global-change biology. I combine field- and landscape-scale studies with experiments in climate chambers to investigate how land use and climate change influence biodiversity and species interactions, and which measures help to mitigate the decline of biodiversity, now and under future climate change. My aim is to understand how rural and urban areas can be used sustainably, how the use of gratis ecosystem services like pollination and biocontrol can be optimized, and how agricultural production can be enhanced by ecological intensification.

Thomas Hovestadt
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

The theoretical evolutionary Ecology group explores topics in the evolution of insects dispersal and life-history evolution, the latter with a focus on social insects. Our research agenda includes understanding the evolution of informed dispersal, timing of dispersal and other life-history attributes, but also understanding the effects of landscape dynamics and climate change for population and community dynamics and adaptation. We utilize analytical and numerical approaches with a particular emphasis on individual-based simulations.

Basil el Jundi
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

My DFG funded Emmy Noether research group aims at understanding the neural mechanisms underlying compass orientation in monarch butterflies. These animals use skylight cues as their main source of visual reference during their annual migration from North America to Central Mexico. Currently, we are focusing on how different celestial cues are processed in the brain and how they are combined with other visual cues (e.g. local landmark cues) or modalities (e.g. wind or time of day information). To explore this, we are performing behavioral experiments in flight simulators in the laboratory and outdoors as well as study the neuroarchitecture of the brain (brain regions and single cells) anatomically (confocal imaging, 3D modelling). In addition, we are studying the coding of compass cues in the brain through electrophysiological techniques (intracellular and tetrode recordings).

Jochen Krauß
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

Jochen Krauss is Professor of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the University of Würzburg, Germany. His research group “Spatial and Microbial Ecology” focuses mainly on research questions within the fields of agroecology, landscape ecology, climate change biology and multi-trophic interactions, including species of endophytic fungi (Epichloë), vascular plants, aphids, butterflies, grasshoppers, true bugs, carabid beetles, birds and the European hamster. He has advanced knowledge on the biology of insects with strong identification skills in invertebrates and vertebrates and is interested in all kinds of biodiversity research.

Sara Leonhardt
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

Sara Leonhardt studies the ecology and chemistry of plant-insect interactions in both temperate and tropical regions, with particular focus on bees. Projects investigate bee-plant interactions as well as bee health and performance in different habitats and along biodiversity gradients. She is particularly interested in the impact of biodiversity loss on bee populations. Research in her group combines ecological methods (field studies, biostatistics) with classic behavioral and physiological studies (e.g. behavioral conditioning) and modern analytical chemistry (GCMS, HPLC).

Emily Poppenborg Martin
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

Emily Poppenborg Martin is an agroecologist and landscape ecologist focussing on the links between land-use and agricultural landscape management, and the maintenance and resilience of arthropod biodiversity and ecosystem services in agriculture, particularly pollination and natural pest control. With this focus her aim is to combine environmental sustainability with agricultural food production for an ecological intensification of agriculture, now and under changing future conditions. She investigates ways to attain this at field, landscape and cross-regional levels using large syntheses of empirical data, modelling, and field studies of the impact of policy, landscape and farm-level management on biodiversity, species interactions, ecosystem services and agricultural production.

Pamela Menegazzi
Neurobiology and Genetics

Environment modulates the clock, which, in turns, fine tunes behaviour and physiology. A properly timed circadian clock is therefore fundamental for adaptation to a specific climate or season. Pamela Menegazzi’s research, using Drosophilids as models, focuses on the mechanisms through which the circadian clock interprets day length information to allow the organism to adjust to the environment it lives in.

Jörg Müller
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

The major focus of my research is on mechanisms determining the biodiversity of terrestrial ecosystems. As insects form hyperdivers groups in many orders, I regularly work with beetles, nocturnal moths and others. I am interested how anthropogenic impact via land-use or climate change affects the diversity of these tiny organisms. Here I use observational data and field experiments as well a combination of methods from different disciplines, e.g. community ecology, remote sensing and genetics. I conduct insect studies at the Fieldstation Fabrikschleichach and in the Bavarian Forest Nationalpark as well as in large collaborative studies across Germany, Europe or globally. I have a special focus on insects related to deadwood and saproxylic beetles are my favorite group. I use them to develop balanced, evidence-based strategies for a conservation oriented forest management. However, I am not only interested in threatened insects but also in pest species.

Thomas Raabe
Medical Radiation and Cell Research

Thomas Raabe is Professor of Molecular Genetics. His group uses Drosophila melanogaster as model for neurobiological questions. One major focus is the characterization of factors controlling proliferation of neural progenitor cells. Given the conservation of many molecular mechanisms and neurophysiological processes, Drosophila is also a valuable model organism for studies with translational impact. Current projects on this topic include characterization of a factor implicated in neurodegeneration and analysis of a gene, whose mutation causes severe mental disabilities in humans. Together with complementary studies done by our collaboration partners in mice, this work hopefully contributes for better understanding the pathophysiology of human neurological diseases.

Marcell Peters
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

I am a community ecologist focussing on the effects of climate and land use change on biodiversity and ecosystem functions in tropical mountain ecosystems. A key topic of my research is the variation in species diversity across the broad climate gradients on mountains, in which I target the analyses of multiple animal groups (from army ants to large vertebrates). Other key topics are the changes in animals’ traits and the ecosystem functions which animals perform on mountains. I am highly interested in both recovering the patterns and mechanisms operating in natural habitats (how ecosystem would look like without humans) and understanding how human impact restructures mountain ecosystems.

Keram Pfeiffer
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

My general scientific interest is to understand how neural circuits in the tiny brains of insects create sophisticated behaviors. Specifically I am intersted in the processing of visual information relating to spatial orientation. In my laboratory we study honeybees and bumblebees using a variety of techniques ranging from behavioral observations and neuranatomical techniques to physiological methods, like Calcium imaging and intracellular single cell recordings.

Dirk Rieger
Neurobiology and Genetics

Dirk Rieger is Academic Senior Councillor in Neurobiology and Genetics. He is interested in the architecture of the neuronal circadian clock network of Drosophila melanogaster. By investigating the neuronal pre- and post-synaptic partners of the clock network, the input and output paths of the clock are clarified. In addition to anatomical work using immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy, functional relationships of the network with cultured brain explants and luminescence microscopy are also investigated.

Flavio Roces
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

Ant colonies are highly-organized societies without central control. Due to their impressive diversity, ants offer the opportunity to comparatively analyze the mechanisms and adaptive value of individual behaviors, as well as the coordination of collective patterns. Our research is aimed, in a broad sense, at understanding the organization of ant societies in the contexts of food collection, nest building, and the control of nest climate. Together with my colleagues Daniela Römer and Oliver Geißler, we investigate individual decision making, learning and memory, behavioral plasticity, information flows, and collective patterns in both leaf-cutting ants (Atta and Acromyrmex) and nectar-feeding ants (Camponotus).

Wolfgang Rössler
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

My research focuses on mechanisms underlying social insect behavior – from individual behavior and social interactions to neuronal processes in the brain and the evolution of neurocircuits making up a “social brain”. We study various species of ants and bees to understand navigational capabilities underlying central place foraging, olfactory interactions, and behavioral plasticity related to polyethism and long-term memory. Behavioral experiments in the field and laboratory are combined with neurocircuit analyses, neurophysiology (electrophysiology, imaging) and molecular approaches.

Ricarda Scheiner
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

I am a professor of Behavioral Physiology and Sociobiology (Zoology II). My group aims to understand the molecular mechanisms underlying behavioral decisions in honeybees (Apis mellifera). We particularly focus on the molecular mechanisms underlying taste perception, division of labor and learning behavior in honeybees. In addition, we want to comprehend the role neurotransmitters such as octopamine and tyramine and their receptors in modulating these behaviors. We also work on more applied questions such as the effects of pesticides on honeybee behavior, the strategies of honeybees to defend themselves against the Varroa mite and the combined effects of climate, weather and location on the annual development of honeybee colonies all over Germany. Our methods include a multitude of behavioral assays, quantitative real-time PCR, immunohistochemistry, HPLC, RNAi and CRISPR/Cas9.

Thomas Schmitt
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

Thomas Schmitt is a Professor of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the University of Würzburg. He and his group are interested in the evolution and ecology of chemical profiles in insects. In particular, they focus on the evolution of cuticular hydrocarbon profiles and the diverse functions of cuticular hydrocarbons as desiccation barrier and as cues and signals for intra- and interspecific communication. The group investigates evolutionary trajectories and mechanisms which shapes these profiles and uses them as a model for complex traits to understand how these traits evolves in general. Current projects investigate: (1) the evolution of CHC profiles in the context of chemical mimicry and parasite-host interactions; (2) the impact of climatic conditions and microbiomes on the composition of CHCs; and (3) the effect of phylogeny and spatial isolation on cuticular profiles. Hymenoptera are the main study subjects, but the group also started to study mosquitos, flies and beetles in various climate zones around the world with a focus on the tropics.

Pingkalai Senthilan
Neurobiology and Genetics

Pingkalai Senthilan is a researcher in Neurobiology and Genetics. She is interested in the functional, evolutionary and developmental similarities and differences of light-sensitive molecules such as rhodopsins and cryptochromes. She examines different photoreceptors for their visual and non-visual roles, including color and contrast vision, circadian clock entrainment and startle responses. She works mainly with Drosophila melanogaster and uses molecular biological, behavioral and genetic methods as well as bioinformatics for her research.

Johannes Spaethe
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

The “Umwelt” of an organism is the sum total of all the information being received and processed by that organism's nervous system. It differs for each species, which makes it difficult for us to truly understand how another animal perceives the world. Our group is interested in the function, ecology and evolution of sensory systems in insects. In particular, we focus on the visual system of bees and other hymenopterans. We combine the methods of molecular genetics, neurobiology and behavioural science to understand how animals perceive visual information like colour and shape, and what brain areas are involved in processing and memorising this information. Recently we started to investigate how bees perceive the nutritional quality and quantity of pollen during foraging by means of chemotactile perception.

Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter is Professor and Chair of the Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the University of Würzburg, Germany. He studies the impact of land use intensification, habitat fragmentation and climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services. His expertise covers biodiversity – ecosystem functioning relationships, pollinator ecology, crop pollination services, biological pest control, evaluation of agri-environmental schemes, data base coordination, global meta-analyses, and sustainable landscape management. He has extensive experience as coordinator and partner in several international, European and national research projects and a long-lasting track record of successful interdisciplinary cooperation and research in tropical ecosystems.

Anna Stöckl
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)

Our research seeks to understand general strategies in visual processing; how they are shaped by their anatomical substrates and how they are expressed in natural behaviour. Following this interest, we are currently investigating spatial processing strategies in hawkmoth vision. We also study how hummingbird hawkmoths perceive patterns on flower faces and use these for precise proboscis placement. To approach our research questions from multiple angles, we use electrophysiological, anatomical, behavioural and computational methods.

Simon Thorn
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)

My research focus on experimental, and survey-based entomological studies. I am interested on how natural and anthropogenic disturbances shape forest insect communities, particularly communities of saproxylic beetles. Therefore, I combine data on species occurences, evolutionary relatedness, and morphological and ecological characteristics with modern statistical methods to answer questions in the field of basic and applied ecology.

Christian Wegener
Neurobiology and Genetics

Christian Wegener is Professor of Neurogenetics and is working on the function and regulation of insect peptidergic systems, escpecially in relation to the circadian clock and feeding-related behaviours and metabolism. He is mainly working on peptides from the nervous system and midgut of the fruit fly, but has also conducted peptidomic/genomic studies in a variety of other insects. Current projects include the circadian control of peptidergic systems involved in eclosion timing and metabolism, gut-to-brain signalling and neuropeptide processing.


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Jie Zhang


Neurobiology and Genetics 
Zoology II 
Zoology III 


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