Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

Max Planck Institute for Ornithology

Birds provide an ideal subject of research for a variety of fundamental biologic questions. Bird song for example resembles human language in many ways. Researchers at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen want to find out how bird song has developed through learning process and what role neuronal principles and hormones play in this process. Furthermore they study the evolution of partner selection and loyalty of partners. Why do individuals differ in their mating behaviour and how does this affect their reproductive success, are examples of questions, that they search the answers for.

Currently, the institute hosts two departments and several independent research groups.

Contact

Eberhard-Gwinner-Straße
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 for Organismal Biology

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

Department Behavioural Neurobiology

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Department Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics

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Each moth escapes its own way

Species-specific escape strategies of moths make hunting difficult for bats

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A portrait of the first nine Lise Meitner Group Leaders

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The brains of birds synchronize when they sing duets

Vocal control areas in the brain of weaver birds fire in time when they sing together

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Every bat travels differently

Noctule bats follow individual routes to their nursery roosts

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Hunting fruit bats also harms humans

Straw-coloured fruit bats provide valuable ecological services for humans

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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.

For humans, even a brief bout of sleepiness while driving can have fatal consequences. Frigatebirds, on the other hand, can snooze while cruising through the air without crashing to the ground. What’s more, they generally get by on very little sleep during their long flights over the open ocean, which can last for days. A team of scientists working with Niels Rattenborg at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen has demonstrated for the first time that birds can fly in sleep mode.

From the tropical rainforest to the urban jungle, birds have conquered many habitats on our planet – and they sing in nearly all of them. Henrik Brumm at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen studies how they use song to communicate with each other. He has taken a particular liking to one extraordinarily talented singer.

During language acquisition, gestures seem vital to learning how to speak. They help us emphasize and structure what we say. Simone Pika from the Humboldt Research Group at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Seewiesen wants to know whether gestures were an evolutionary precursor of human language and how they develop. To investigate this question, the researcher studies the communication strategies of great apes in natural environments, but also corvids and human infants.

A Four-Legged Early-Warning System

Environment & Climate

In many parts of the world, goats are important suppliers of milk, meat and hides. However, Martin Wikelski, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology in Radolfzell, has very different plans for these modest animals: he wants to use them to predict volcanic eruptions.

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Acoustic invisibility cloaks and pricked-up ears

2018 Goerlitz, Holger R.

Behavioural Biology Ecology

Our sensory systems are our access to the world. In an evolutionary arms race, bats and insects interact as predator and prey based on exclusively acoustic information. Using microphone systems in the lab and field, we investigate which information and sensory strategies bats use for hunting insect prey. To counter the prey’s defence systems, some bats became inaudible for their unsuspecting prey, while other species rely on the prey’s rustling noises or eavesdrop on the foraging calls of other close-by bats.

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Sleeping on the wing

2017 Rattenborg, Niels C.

Behavioural Biology Ecology Microbiology Neurosciences Physiology

For centuries, people have wondered whether birds sleep on the wing during long, non-stop flights. However, until recently there was no direct evidence for sleep in flight. Measuring the brain activity of frigatebirds in the wild showed that these birds can sleep with either one cerebral hemisphere at a time or both hemispheres simultaneously. Despite being able to engage in all types of sleep in flight, the birds slept less than an hour a day, a mere fraction of the time spent sleeping on land.

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Individual shrinking and regrowth as a winter adaption in high-metabolic mammals

2016 Dechmann, D.K.M.; Hertel, M.; Wikelski, M.

Behavioural Biology Ecology Physiology

Skull and body size usually don't change anymore in fully-grown animals. Red-toothed shrews (Sorex spp.) are a notable exception: they shrink in anticipation of the winter and regrow in preparation for reproduction. This process affects the brain, several other major organs, bones and also the cognitive abilities. The phenomenon is also found in weasels, which share many life history traits, especially an exceedingly high metabolism. The study is important for our understanding of evolution, and has profound implications for medical research.

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How sex hormones regulate birdsong

2015 Dittrich, Falk; Frankl-Vilches, Carolina; Ko, Meng-Ching; Diales da Rocha, Mariana; Leitner, Stefan; Gahr, Manfred

Behavioural Biology Ecology Evolutionary Biology Genetics Neurosciences Physiology

Species-specific seasonal changes of bird song, that are caused by sex hormones, can be a consequence of distinct gene expression patterns induced in the song control system. In songbirds, different sex hormone activities are based on divergent genomic regulatory mechanisms. However, neuronal wiring of the songbird as well as mammalian brain is modified by sex hormones via to some extent comparable cellular processes.

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Why females cheat with old males

2014 Schroeder, Julia

Behavioural Biology Ecology Physiology

Anisogamy leads to females being expected to be the choosier sex. However, when females cheat on their social partners, they seek males as mates that are older than their social partner but with whom they produce offspring of lower fitness. This is what a team around researchers of the MPI for Ornithology found in house sparrows. Also, old mothers produced daughters of low fitness compared to young mothers. These findings are important, as this patterns has been found to a limit also in humans. Thus, with increasing age of reproduction we may pass on the costs of this to the next generation.

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