3 positions - the neurobiological and behavioural basis of swarming in locusts

We seek candidates for 3 PhD/ Postdoctoral positions, to work on an integrative project in which we will explore the neural and behavioural basis collective sensing and motion in swarm-forming locusts. Swarming locusts contribute to major humanitarian crises and are estimated to impact the livelihood of one in ten people on the planet, yet the ability to predict when and where locusts will swarm remains elusive. These projects will be advised by Prof. Dr. Giovanni Galizia (Topic A) and Dr. Einat Couzin-Fuchs (Topic B) in the Department of Biology at the University of Konstanz and Prof. Dr. Iain Couzin (Topic C) in the Department of Biology and Max Planck Department of Collective Behaviour at the University of Konstanz.

Successful candidates will be integrated within the “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz as well as the IMPRS for Organismal Biology.


Topic A – Locust odour perception

How are odors coded in the brain of locusts? We use electrophysiological and optophysiological technologies to unravel the nature of olfactory coding in this species. In particular, we will analyze the relationship of spatial and temporal coding properties, and relate them to the neuroanatomy of the locust. We will use social odors, and plant derived odors, to test a variety of contradicting theories. These results will help us understand how odors influence the social behavior of locusts, how animals navigate in temporally complex odor plumes, and how different odor qualities are encoded. A strong interest in neural networks, neurophysiology, microscopy and large data analysis is required.    

Main advisor: Giovanni Galizia, University of Konstanz


Topic B – Sensing on the move: The neural basis of movement decisions

This sub-project will focus on individual perception during motion. individual perception during motion in locustrs. Using immersive virtual reality, in conjunction with conventional neurophysiological and behavioral experimentation, we will monitor brain activity in intact walking locusts to elucidate mechanisms underlying individual and group movement decisions. This includes mapping sensory cues locusts are expose to while swarming, monitoring how are they perceived and influence movement decisions. We welcome candidates from a wide range of backgrounds (biology, engineering science, physics, computer science), but experience in neurobiology or computational neuroscience and basic knowledge in programming languages (Matlab, Python) are an advantage. 

Main advisor: Einat Couzin-Fuchs, University of Konstanz


Topic C - Collective sensing and decision making in locust swarms 

The third sub-project aims to translate understanding from topics A and B, to investigate collective sensing and decision-making by locusts under naturalistic (and potentially field) conditions. Integrated experimental and theoretical analyses will be conducted to determine how social and non-social cues are integrated by individuals across a range of spatial and temporal scales. We will evaluate to what degree individuals contribute to, and benefit from, distributed sensing when faced with large heterogeneous environments in which food abundance, distribution and nutritional quality may all be unpredictable, and can change dynamically. In the laboratory we will take advantage of immersive Virtual Reality as well as a large (15m x 7m x 4m) imaging environment where a large number (hundreds or thousands) of insects can be tracked with sub-mm precision, in 3D. The candidate will be trained in using state of the art digital tracking, body posture analysis and visual field reconstruction. While previous experience with programming (such as in Python) is not necessary, an interest in developing such quantitative skills is essential.

Main advisor: Iain Couzin, University of Konstanz + MPI for Ornithology



Application to all positions:  Interested candidates should apply online via the IMPRS application website. The position can begin as early as April 2019 and will be funded for three years, with the possibility of extension through external funding sources.

Keywords: Locust swarm, virtual reality, collective behaviour, sensory coding, active sensing, olfaction, decision making

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