Meet Our Team of Principle Investigators

Jan Ache
Neurobiology and Genetics
ORCID: 0000-0001-7355-7860

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. My lab is trying to unravel the neuronal mechanisms enabling flexible, adaptive behavior. To this end, we are combining cutting-edge methods such as detailed circuit reconstruction, optogenetics and in-vivo physiology in behaving fruit flies. Currently, we are focusing on the effects of internal states on descending motor pathways.

Juliano Sarmento Cabral
Ecosystem Modeling, Center for Computational and Theoretical Biology (CCTB)
ORCID: 0000-0002-0116-220X

My research group “Ecosystem Modeling” focuses on 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)
ORCID: 0000-0002-7813-8806

I am a macroecologist with a passion for insect pollinators and elevational gradients around the world. I currently aim to understand the mechanisms and limits of alpine insect adaptation to climate change at different levels of biological organisation. Together with my junior research group ADAPT, which is part of the Bavarian Climate Research Network, I investigate how alpine insect communities change over time and search for the traits that mediate adaptation. I am also interested in the molecular basis of climate adaptation and recently started to explore the transcriptome of bumblebees that were collected in different climatic regimes.

Erik Frank
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)
ORCID: 0000-0002-2066-3202

I am a behavioral ecologist and tropical biologist with a focus on social insects. My main study project focuses on the evolution of social wound care in ants. A unique behavior in which nestmates care for the wounds of injured individuals. To study this I use chemical analyses to understand the communication pathways (cuticular hydrocarbons and pheromones), video tracking of focal individuals for the behavioral aspect and microbiological assays for controlled infections of wounds and quantification of bacterial replication inside the host (qPCR). My main study subjects are Megaponera analis (sub-Saharan Africa), Eciton rapax (Neotropics) and Camponotus floridanus (North America).

Charlotte Förster
Neurobiology and Genetics
ORCID: 0000-0002-0859-9092

The main research interests of my group 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. A special emphasis of our studies lies in the role of neuropeptides in the circadian clock network of the brain. Most studies are performed on the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, but we study also other Drosophilids that live at different latitudes ranging from subpolar regions to the Equator and other arthropods (aphids, hymenoptera and antarctic krill) in a comparative approach. Furthermore, we are in interested in seasonal timing, photoperiodism and lunar clocks.

Peter Gallant
Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
ORCID: 0000-0002-8270-5738

I am studying 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. My group uses Drosophila melanogaster both as a paradigm for animal growth and as a model system for cancer.

Claudia Groh
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)
ORCID: 0000-0002-1113-0148

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)
ORCID: 0000-0002-5235-4746

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)
ORCID: 0000-0001-7368-6013

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)
ORCID: 0000-0002-4539-6681

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)
ORCID: 0000-0003-2304-9117

My research group “Spatial and Microbial Ecology” focuses mainly on research questions within the fields of agroecology, landscape ecology, climate change biology, chemical ecology and multi-trophic interactions. My favorite insect groups are lepidopterans, true bugs, aphids, carabid beetles and grasshoppers, but I am also interested in all other organism groups including vascular plants, spiders, birds and the European hamster. Thereby the identification and diversity of insects and other organisms play an important role in my research. A special focus of my research is on endophytic fungi, mainly of the genus (Epichloë), and the toxicity for invertebrates and grazing vertebrates.

Pamela Menegazzi
Neurobiology and Genetics
ORCID: 0000-0001-5232-1920

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. My 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.

Oliver Mitesser
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)
ORCID: 000-0002-3607-877X

I'm a theoretical ecologist with main interest in temporal andspatial transitions in insects' individual life histories, population dynamics, and community structure. My research focusses on linking the ultimate (evolutionary) perspective on empirically observed patterns to proximate ecological and physiological mechanisms of resource acquisition and allocation. This is achieved by mathematical modelling and optimization for developing conceptual frameworks and statistical as well as machine learning approaches to analyze aggregated big data records.

Jörg Müller
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)
ORCID: 0000-0002-1409-1586

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.

Marcell Peters
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)
ORCID: 0000-0002-1262-0827

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)
ORCID: 0000-0001-5348-2304

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 to physiological methods, like extracellular tetrode recordings and intracellular single cell recordings.

Thomas Raabe
Medical Radiation and Cell Research
ORCID: 0000-0001-9734-4464

My group uses Drosophila melanogaster as model for neurobiological questions. One major focus is on 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.

Sarah Redlich
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)
ORCID: 0000-0001-5609-0576

I am an agroecologist and landscape ecologist at the Department of Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology at the University of Würzburg, Germany. My research focuses on the impact of agricultural management, land use and climate on arthropod biodiversity and ecosystem services such as natural pest control and pollination. I investigate the trade-off between agricultural food production and biodiversity conservation in an attempt to enhance agricultural sustainability using agro-ecological management practices and the concept of “ecological intensification” (replacing negative farming practices with ecosystem services). My research spans across multiple spatial and temporal scales and involves a combination of observational and experimental field studies, as well as greenhouse and plot experiments. An important component of my work is the interaction and communication with a diversity of stakeholders from farmers, politicians and NGOs to the general public. I am also engaged in the initiative Living Campus (Living Campus Initiative), which aims to record, preserve and enhance plant and animal biodiversity on the Hubland campus.

Dirk Rieger
Neurobiology and Genetics
ORCID: 0000-0001-5597-5858

My research interest is the architecture of the neuronal network of the Drosophila melanogaster´s endogenous clock. By studying the neuronal pre- and postsynaptic partners of the clock network, the input and output pathways of the clock can be elucidated. In addition to anatomical work using immunohistochemistry and confocal microscopy, I am also attempting to investigate functional relationships of the network using cultured brain explants and luminescence microscopy. Supporting the neuroanatomical level studies, I also perform simple behavioral experiments.

Flavio Roces
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)
ORCID: 0000-0001-9258-3079

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)
ORCID: 0000-0002-5195-8214

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)
ORCID: 0000-0002-7515-4253

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, learning behavior and adaptation to elevation and temperature in honeybees with the aim to comprehend the role neurotransmitters such as octopamine and tyramine and their receptors in modulating honeybee behavior. In addition, we are interested in the adaptation of different European honeybee subspecies to different climatic conditions.
We also work on more applied questions such as the effects of plant protection products on honeybee and wild bee behavior, the strategies of honeybees to defend themselves against the Varroa mite, the effects of different beekeeping methods on Varroa mites 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)
ORCID: 0000-0002-6719-8635

My research focuses on the evolution and ecology of chemical profiles in insects. Particularly 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. My research 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
ORCID: 0000-0003-3921-8886

My main research interest is in the functional, evolutionary and developmental similarities and differences of light-sensitive molecules such as rhodopsins and cryptochromes. My group examines different photoreceptors for their visual and non-visual roles, including color and contrast vision, circadian clock entrainment and startle responses. Mainly working with Drosophila melanogaster, we use molecular biological, behavioral and genetic methods as well as bioinformatics for our research.

Johannes Spaethe
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)
ORCID: 0000-0002-0734-2869

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)
ORCID: 0000-0003-1359-3944

My research focuses on the impact of land use intensification, habitat fragmentation and climate change on biodiversity and ecosystem services. My 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. I have 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)
ORCID: 0000-0002-0833-9995

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.

Markus Thamm
Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology (Zoology II)
ORCID: 0000-0003-0480-2206

Our research aims to understand the physiological basis of behavioral plasticity in insects. In particular, we are interested in how biogenic amines and their specific receptors directly modulate behavior or influence the physiology underlying behavior. Due to its exciting and rich behavioral repertoire, our model organism is the honeybee. In our experiments we combine a variety of methods such as behavioral pharmacology, pharmaceutical analytics and molecular biology.

Simon Thorn
Animal Ecology and Tropical Biology (Zoology III)
ORCID: 0000-0002-3062-3060

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
ORCID: 0000-0003-4481-3567

My main interest is on the function and regulation of insect peptidergic systems, especially in relation to daily orchestration of behaviour and metabolism. Our group 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 circadian timing of eclosion, feeding and metabolism, gut-to-brain signalling and neuropeptide processing.

Meet Zandawala
Neurobiology and Genetics
ORCID: 0000-0001-6498-2208

My research group is interested in context-dependent modulation of behaviors and physiological processes by neuropeptides and their G-protein coupled receptors. The nervous systems of animals utilize a wide variety of chemicals for neuronal communication. These include amino acids, biogenic amines, and neuropeptides amongst others. Neuropeptides are by far the most diverse, and control a range of essential physiological processes including feeding, metabolism, sleep, stress, reproduction, development and locomotion. The group is interested in understanding how neuropeptides mediate their effects in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster. They utilize multiple approaches including standard molecular techniques, CRISPR/Cas9, Drosophila genetics, behavioral analyses, optogenetics and calcium imaging. One focus is on the development of cutting-edge genetic tools to study neuropeptide function in Drosophila.

Former members

Sara Leonhardt
Research Department Life Science Systems at the Technical University of Munich
ORCID: 0000-0002-8154-9569

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).

Peter Biedermann
Department of Forest Entomology and Protection at University of Freiburg
ORCID: 0000-0003-4234-5659

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).

Emily Poppenborg Martin
Institute of Geobotany at University of Hannover
ORCID: 0000-0001-5785-9105

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.


Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg
Am Hubland
97074 Würzburg



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Jie Zhang


Neurobiology and Genetics 
Zoology II 
Zoology III 


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