Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence (Seewiesen site)

Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence (Seewiesen site)

The Max Planck Institute for Biological Intelligence emerged from the two Max Planck Institutes of Neurobiology and for Ornithology in January 2022. The final, legal establishment of the institute took place on January 1, 2023. About 500 employees from more than 50 nations are dedicated to basic research on topics in behavioral ecology, evolutionary research and neuroscience. The institute research focuses on biological intelligence, i.e. the abilities of animal organisms that have evolved through evolution to acquire, store, apply and pass on knowledge about their environment in order to find ever new solutions to problems and adapt to a constantly changing environment. The mechanisms of biological intelligence are being examined at various levels: studies range from molecular interactions to entire groups of individuals.

The institute has two locations, the nature-oriented Campus Seewiesen near Starnberg, and the Campus Martinsried in the southwest of Munich.


82319 Seewiesen
Phone: +49 8157 932-0
Fax: +49 8157 932-209

PhD opportunities

This institute has an International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS):

IMPRS - Biological Intelligence

In addition, there is the possibility of individual doctoral research. Please contact the directors or research group leaders at the Institute.

Department Evolution of Sensory and Physiological Systems


Department Behavioural Neurobiology


Department Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics


First Max Planck Center in Africa will study how interactions between species lead to coevolution and influence biodiversity

Four zebra finches sitting on a perch: from left to right, a female, a chick, a male and another female.

Their first vocalizations help young zebra finch males to memorize the songs of adults

Photo with a nesting box and two blue tits, one of which is flying out while the other is waiting at the nest's entrance hole.

In the absence of older males, young male blue tits have higher mating success with additional females

Mouse, who is feeling sick, stands in front of delicious food such as cheese, donuts, grapes and biscuits.

A brain circuit inhibits food intake during nausea

Illustration of two mitochondria (cellular power plants) that form the two halves of a Yin-and-Yang sign.

In nerve cells, the hormone regulates whether mitochondria are shut down or kept running

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Anna Proß of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology researched the vocal behavior of nightingales in Ghana. Here, she talks about her encounters with venomous snakes, her new fondness for plantains, and she reveals how ornithologists are making the most of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Two shadows flit around in the evening light. A bat is chasing after a moth in a wild dance between hunter and prey. For Holger Goerlitz, pursuits like this one are a real thrill. The leader of an Emmy Noether Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen is researching how bats and insects use sound to detect each other.

No zebra finch emerges from the egg as an accomplished singer: each young bird first has to take singing lessons. Songbirds are therefore excellent model organisms for the study of learning processes in vertebrates. Manfred Gahr and his team at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen are conducting research into how various songbird species learn their songs and what happens in their brains during the process.

Until recently, following the crowd was not seen as a desirable goal in life. These days, however, everyone is talking about swarm intelligence. But are swarms really smarter than individuals? And what rules, if any, do they follow? With the help of new computational techniques, Iain Couzin from the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell imposes order on the seeming chaos of swarms.

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How do animals adjust to environmental fluctuations caused by climate change?

2023 Oefele, Marlene; Hau, Michaela

Behavioural Biology Ecology Physiology

Seasonal and weather-related changes in environmental conditions are normal in almost all parts of the world. They affect the availability of food and the energy expenditure of animals in a largely predictable way. However, we are currently experiencing a significant increase in annual temperatures and, in particular, in the frequency of extreme weather events. It is therefore important to understand how the body's internal processes respond to environmental changes and mediate adaptations of animals to be able to assess whether species will be able to cope or become extinct.


Different ways of sensing sugars: hummingbirds, woodpeckers and geckos

2022 Baldwin, Maude W.

Behavioural Biology Ecology

Animals rely on their sense of taste to detect nutrients and avoid toxins. However, different species can have very different senses of taste: what tastes sweet to humans tastes very different to cats and to birds. Diet shifts happen frequently across the phylogeny of animal species. Changes in diets, for instance, from  omnivorous to carnivorous, can be associated with changes in taste receptor number or function. Understanding how and when taste receptors change gives us insight into how new behaviors arise, how proteins evolve new functions, and into the evolutionary process itself.


How behavioural diversity is maintained

2021 Küpper, Clemens

Behavioural Biology Ecology Evolutionary Biology Genetics

Within species diversity in morphology and behaviour is widespread in nature. In ruffs, a substantial amount of this diversity is encoded by variants of a supergene that have different fitness consequences for males and females.


Neural control of vocal interactions in zebra finches

2020 Vallentin, Daniela

Behavioural Biology Ecology Neurosciences

During a good conversation we typically rarely interrupt each other. Although we often already know what we want to say, we suppress our own pronunciation until the other person has finished speaking. How does the brain control this behavior? To better understand the mechanisms involved, we took a closer look at the calling behavior of zebra finches and the neural processes taking place. Like humans, zebra finches coordinate their vocalizations depending on the social situation. This interaction is based on a temporally ordered interplay between inhibiting and excitatory neurons.


The neural basis of duet singing – a neurophysiological field study

2019 Susanne Hoffmann, Lisa Trost, Cornelia Voigt, Stefan Leitner, Alena Lemazina, Hannes Sagunsky, Markus Abels, Sandra Kollmansperger, Andries Ter Maat & Manfred Gahr

Behavioural Biology Ecology Neurosciences

Duet singing is a form of social interaction between two individuals which requires the precise interindividual coordination of vocal emissions. How the brain controls this cooperative behavior was so far unknown. Here, the individual vocalizations and the underlying brain activity in free-living pairs of duetting songbirds has been recorded in parallel with novel miniature transmitters. The data revealed that preprogrammed temporal duet patterns in each songbird’s brain were altered by the partner’s vocalizations to enable optimal interindividual coordination during joint singing.

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