The overall goal of the Department is to study evolutionary adaptations in insects which are mediated by chemical signals. The concept of co-evolution forms the theoretical framework, in which insect-plant, insect-microbe, and insect-insect interactions are examined. Since all evolutionary change has a genetic basis, the knowledge of how genes control phenotypes is fundamental to an understanding of the mechanism of co-evolution. Research in the department focuses also on detoxification enzymes in insects (CYP450), resistances against Bt toxins, and digestive enzymes in insects guts.
Director: Prof. Dr. David G. Heckel

Evolutionary Neuroethology

The Department of Evolutionary Neuroethology studies odor-directed behavior and the underlying neurobiological substrate in insects from a functional and evolutionary perspective. Studies are performed in two main systems: drosophilid flies and sphingid moths. In drosophilids, the main objective is to understand the evolution of olfactory functions. By studying related insects and other animals (e.g. crabs) living under different ecological conditions it is possible to understand how habitat and food-choice affect the sense of smell. The department has a variety of technical facilities (wind tunnels, flywalk system) for the quantification of behavioral patterns.
Director: Prof. Dr. Bill S. Hansson

Bioorganic Chemistry

The Department of Bioorganic Chemistry focuses on the elucidation of defense and interactive mechanisms of different organisms. Modern analytical methods are applied to identify high- and low-molecular elicitors and signal-transducers, and to analyze the biosynthetic pathways of volatiles and defense compounds in plants and insects. The defensive glandular systems in leaf beetle larvae are another part of the research efforts. The biosynthetic potential of insects is strongly enhanced by their commensal gut bacteria or by endosymbionts. A further research focus addresses the detoxification of plant toxins with the help of gut bacteria.
Director: Prof. Dr. Wilhelm Boland


The Department of Biochemistry investigates the chemical defenses that plants deploy against their herbivorous enemies. The research goal is to determine which chemical compounds actually protect plants, how they act against herbivores, how the production of defenses in plants is regulated, and why plants seem to have evolved such a large diversity of defensive compounds. Current projects focus especially on the defenses of trees and other woody plants against aphids and beetles. The defensive metabolites under study include a variety of terpenoids, phenolics, alkaloids and glucosinolates. The latest methods of biochemistry as well as analytical chemistry, molecular biology and field ecology are applied.
Director: Prof. Dr. Jonathan Gershenzon

Molecular Ecology

The overarching objective of the research in the Department of Molecular Ecology is to manipulate ecological interactions in nature to identify traits that are demonstrably important for an organism's Darwinian fitness in the complexity of interactions that occur in nature. The scientists focus on plant-mediated interactions and have developed an ecological expression system with a native plant that has a rich suite of ecological interactions: the wild tobacco species Nicotiana attenuata. The department is well equipped with modern genetic and molecular methods and is running a field station in Utah (USA).
Director: Prof. Dr. Ian T. Baldwin

Research Groups

Research Group Sequestration and Detoxification in Insects

Scientists in the group study the interaction between crucifer-feeding flea beetles (Phyllotreta species) and their host plants using molecular and biochemical tools, analytical chemistry, as well as behavioral ecology.
Group leader: Dr. Franziska Beran

Research Group Olfactory Coding

The central question of the Research Group is to investigate how odors are coded and processed in the insect brain to lead to a specific odor perception.
Group leader: Dr. Silke Sachse

Research Group Biosynthesis/NMR

The Research Group elucidates the structures of ecologically relevant low-molecular natural products, investigates the tissue- and cell-specific occurrence of secondary metabolites in plants and studies their biosynthetic pathways by means of NMR spectroscopic methods.
Group leader: PD Dr. Bernd Schneider

Research Group Mass Spectrometry/Proteomics

Research of the group is focused on the biosynthesis and the structure elucidation of natural compounds from plants and insects. Furthermore, experiments are conducted to investigate new plant and insect signaling substances.
Group leader: Dr. Aleš Svatoš

Former Research Groups

Max Planck Research Group Insect Symbiosis

The independent Max Planck Research Group is studying the evolutionary and chemical ecology of symbioses between insects and actinomycete bacteria.Group leader: Dr. Martin Kaltenpoth
New address: University of Mainz, Institute of Evolutionary Ecology

VW Research Group Experimental Ecology and Evolution

Research of the group funded by the Volkswagen Foundation (VW) focuses on the ecology and evolution of individuals that interact on different levels of selection. Main emphasis lies on the conflicts of interest that arise from these interactions as well as potential routes to resolve them. Group leader: Dr. Christian Kost
New address: Osnabrück University, Institute of Ecology

Research Group Shoot-Root Communication

The overarching question of the root research group is how plants use their roots in defense against herbivores.Group leader: Dr. Matthias Erb
New address: University of Bern, Institute of Plant Sciences

DFG Emmy Noether Research Group Microbial Chemical Ecology,

We aim to understand the chemical basis of interactions between microorganisms, and between microorganisms and other organisms. Group leader: Dr. Dieter Spiteller
New address: University of Konstanz, Chemical Ecology