We study odor-directed behavior and its underlying neurobiological substrate in arthropods from a functional and evolutionary perspective. In drosophilid flies our main objective is to understand the evolution of olfactory functions in an ecological context. By studying closely related species living under different ecological conditions it is possible to understand how habitat and food-choice have affected the evolution of the sense of smell. We are also investigating the direct function of the Drosophila melanogaster olfactory system by looking at transduction mechanisms, and coding and connectivity at different neural levels, as well as the behavioral outcome of olfactory processing. In sphingid moths we want to understand how different host plant associations have affected olfactory function and behavior. Both oviposition site search and nectar feeding are heavily dependent on odor information. To understand the origin of the specific traits characterizing insect olfaction we study the most basal insects like bristletails and firebrats. In all these systems the complete neuroethological chain of events is studied, from single molecules and genes, to neurons, to whole organism responses. To perform this research we make use of modern neurobiological techniques as optical imaging, patch clamping, extra- and intracellular recording, and two photon confocal microscopy. We also use molecular techniques and bioinformatics. Behavioral responses are studied in the field, in wind tunnels and in laboratory bioassays. 

Interview with Prof. Bill Hansson

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Prof. Bill S. Hansson

Director: Prof. Dr. Bill S. Hansson
+49 (0) 3641 57 1400



Swetlana Laubrich

Department Assistant:
Swetlana Laubrich
Phone: +49 (0) 3641 57 1401

Project Groups in the Department of Evolutionary Neuroethology

Dieter Wicher

Olfactory receptors play an important role in adaptation of a species to ecological niches. Insect olfactory receptors are different in two aspects from vertebrate and other invertebrate olfactory receptors which belong to the family of G protein coupled receptors (GPCRs). First, they form dimers composed of one odour-specific protein and one ubiquitous protein forming an ion channel. Second, compared with classical GPCRs the topology of the insect receptor proteins appears to be inverted. more »

Jürgen Rybak

The neural basis of olfaction is studied from a morphological and evolutionary perspective. We are examining the olfactory systems of Drosphilids, and small coeleopterans. Our key techniques are confocal microscopy, neural tracer and as well as electron microscopy (Cryo-FIB-SEM, SEM, TEM) to analyze the neural circuitry involved in olfaction in the arthropod brain. more »

Markus Knaden

My group investigates how odors affect the behavior of animals as different as vinegar flies, sphingid moths, desert ants, and hermit crabs. We try to understand the basic principles of olfaction either in an evolutionary approach, a neurophysiological approach and an ethological approach. more »

Sofia Lavista-Llanos

Our aim is to get hold of the neural mechanisms and genetic basis sustaining chemosensory behavior in the model organism Drosophila melanogaster, and in closely related species living under different ecological conditions. We make use of powerful, genetically encoded tools to manipulate and monitor gene expression and neuronal function in the fly. more »



Sonja Bisch-Knaden

We investigate the impact of olfaction on different aspects in the life history of moths: finding valuable food sources, choosing a conspecific mating partner, and, in the case of female moths, deciding which plants are appropriate substrates to lay eggs. We are especially interested how ecologically important volatile compounds are coded in the antennal lobe, i.e. the first olfactory processing centre of the insect brain. more »