Suggestions for Master's Projects

Animal Behaviour

Ecology and Environment

Oriental beech for assisted migration in Europe: risk assessment using existing plantations

With the projected increase in droughts, forest management is faced with the challenge of maintaining stable forest ecosystems. Assisted migration (AM) has been suggested as a strategy to mitigate maladaptation due to climate change in long-lived forest tree species, thereby maintaining forest health and productivity. Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis) is one of the key species proposed for AM in Europe. It has been speculated that Oriental beech is a more drought tolerant alternative for European beech (Fagus sylvatica), however, no experimental evidence is supporting this. Further, Oriental beech is closely related to European beech, and the two species can hybridize in their zone of contact in the southern Balkans. Thus, they may also hybridize upon introduction of Oriental beech. First generation of hybrids often have a higher fitness, however, the following generations may experience a decline.

The Masters student will join a collaborative project involving the WSL, the INRAE Nancy (France), the University of Freiburg (Germany). The project is aimed at performing a thorough risk assessment for AM of Oriental beech in Europe using >100 years old Oriental beech plantations and a combination of approaches:

  1. using genetic markers to estimate the rate of hybridization between the two species in situ
  2. comparing growth patterns between the two species in situ
  3. comparing the drought tolerance of seedlings under controlled experimental conditions.

The Master student will be principally involved in tasks 1 and 3, and perform field work in Switzerland and France, microsatellite genotyping in the laboratory at the WSL, recording of eco-physiological traits at the INRAE Nancy in France (around weeks), population genetic and spatial statistical analysis, contribution to the redaction of a manuscript about the results. A strong interest in applied evolutionary and conservation biology is essential, as well as taste for learning and performing a wide variety of tasks from field and laboratory work to analyses and writing

Starting date: as soon as possible - before 1 May 2020

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Katalin Csilleryor Dr. Christoph Sperisen, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland.

Last update: 05.03.2020

 

The impact of pesticides on soil life, plant symbionts and ecosystem functioning

Pesticides display a corner stone of modern agriculture and are applied in large quantities to agroecosystems across the world. Depending on their application, only a minor fraction of pesticides applied reaches its targets, leading to a vast amount of potential persistent and toxic residues in the environment that might harm non-targeted organisms and affect human health. While the impact of pesticides on human health is increasingly being addressed, their persistence and impact on soil health remains poorly explored. So far, it is not clear, how the exposure to pesticides residues act as potential stressor for soil ecosystem functioning.

Aims: In this project, you will conduct greenhouse experiments and perform laboratory work, in the fields of ecology, microbiology and analytical chemistry. Plants will be grown in different soils and pesticides will be applied, in order to assess the impact of pesticides on the abundance as well as the activity of soil microbes (including beneficial soil microbes such as mycorrhizal fungi and nitrogen fixing bacteria). In addition, the effects of pesticides on specific soil ecosystem functions (e.g. carbon and nitrogen cycling) will be investigated. The result of this work will help to gain a better understanding about the behaviour and bioavailability of modern pesticides in soils, and provide insight about whether they pose a threat to soil organisms, beneficial soil life, soil functioning and thus are of long-term concern for healthy and productive agroecosystems. The student will obtain experience in ecology, microbiology, statistical analysis and scientific writing. The results have relevance for policy and legislation.

Project start: Starting date is flexible.

Duration: 6-12 months.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden,  Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich and Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zurich.

Last update: 30.01.2020

 

Causes and consequences of trophic interaction modifications in protist communities

Interactions among species define the dynamics and stability of ecological communities. Most ecological theory is currently based on the assumption of pairwise interactions among species, that is, predator-prey pairs, competition between species and others. However, experiments suggest that species do not interact in this purely pairwise fashion, but rather that the presence of additional species in a community can change the direction and strength of the interaction between the focal pair, i.e. a trophic interaction modification. As these changes often come about by changes in behaviour or morphology, rather than merely density changes, these effects are also known as trait-mediated indirect effects (see figure for an explanation how these differ). Ecological theory has recently began to explore the consequences of higher-order interactions on the predictability and stability of communities, but decisive experimental tests of these effects in real communities are currently lacking.  
For this project, I am looking for an enthusiastic student interested in working on the interface between theory and experiments. The students will perform experiments with small food webs of protists and compare their dynamics to predictions of models that take higher-order interactions into account. Videos will be used to understand the behavioural causes of trophic interaction modifications.

Requirements:

  • Interest in community ecology
  • Motivation to perform laboratory microcosm experiments with protists using video analysis techniques

Project start: This project can start anytime.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Frank Pennekamp, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich.

Last update: 19.12.2019

 

Metacommunity dynamics associated with dung pat communities

Dung pats are a discrete habitat for diverse communities of invertebrates and microorganisms. The discrete nature of the dung pats makes them an ideal study system to understand community dynamics in space and time. The dung pat community also performs an important ecosystem function, that is, the decomposition of the dung pat leading to nutrient recycling and release to the surrounding ecosystem .  
This project aims to provide baseline information in spatio-temporal variation of the food web associated with dung pats and tries to understand how temperature (by sampling an altitudinal gradient) and species loss (by experimentally applying a vermicide treatment) will affect the dynamics of the food web as the well as the decomposition of dung pats.  
For this project, I am looking for an enthusiastic student interested in field work, invertebrate taxonomy and community ecology.

Requirements:

  • Interest in community ecology and insect taxonomy
  • Motivation to collect observational data in the field, possibly field experiments
  • Driver’s license

Project start: The M.sc. project ideally starts at the beginning of 2020.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Frank Pennekamp or Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich or Dr. Eva Knop, Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zürich.

Last update: 19.12.2019

 

Evolution of ecological stability in diverse protist communities

The positive effects of biodiversity on ecosystem functioning are nowadays well established. More diverse communities show higher functioning and higher temporal stability than communities consisting of a single species, due to their complementary resource use and differential responses to environmental variation. Recently, experiments with plant communities have revealed that diverse communities co-evolve allowing diverse communities to be more productive than monocultures, or even mixtures established from monoculture types.  
Parallel work on diversity effects on stability in protist communities has shown that diversity has positive effects on temporal stability, but can also have negative effects on resistance, a different component of ecological stability. This project aims to combine these findings and understand the effect of community evolution on multiple components of ecological stability and their covariation.  
For this project, we are looking for an enthusiastic student interested in working on the interface between ecology and evolution. The students will design and perform experiments in which competitive protist communities with different richness levels are co-selected and their temporal stability and resistance measured after the selection period.

Requirements:

  • Interest in community ecology,
  • Motivation to perform laboratory microcosm experiments with protists using video analysis techniques.

Project start: This project can start any time.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Frank Pennekamp or Dr. Debra Zuppinger-Dingley, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich.

Last update: 19.12.2019

 

Arctic biodiversity: bottom-up control of insect diversity in the low-Arctic tundra

Now that the northern Siberian coast has become seasonally ice-free its vegetation is projected to change rapidly, with so far unknown consequences for insect diversity that depends on the vegetation. At the same time, the area will be exposed to increasing economic interest, leading to an additional threat for the biodiversity. Yet, we do not know how the different vegetation types of the low-Arctic tundra affect insect diversity and the factors determining it. Therefore, the overall aim of this master project is to identify how the different vegetation types of the low-Arctic tundra shape insect communities. Furthermore, we aim to characterize the ecosystem functions the different insect communities provide and how they potentially are threatened given further global change.

Project work: For the fieldwork of your project you will be stationed on a field station at the Kytalyk nature reserve (70.82N, 147.47E) in northeast Siberia (Russia) for approximately two months. This is one of the field sites of the URPP Global Change and Biodiversity (https://www.gcb.uzh.ch/en.html) of the University of Zurich. You will work in a team consisting of several Ph.D. students, M.Sc. students and field assistants.

Requirements: You should have a strong interest in Community Ecology and Global Change Biology. Also, you should enjoy doing fieldwork in extreme conditions, working in a team, and learning about new cultures.
Ideally, the M.Sc. project starts early 2020.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact PD Dr. Eva Knop, University of Zurich, www.knoplab.ch, or Prof. Dr. Gabriela Schaepman-Strub, University of Zurich.

Last update: 17.10.2019

 

Drone Ecology: Estimate Skylark Reproductive Success Using Drones

Skylarks are rapidly declining, largely due to more intensified management practices. For the conservation of skylarks precise estimates of their population dynamics and reproductive success are important. To do so, their nests must be found, which is with the current methods very labourintense. Drones might enable to facilitate the search of nests of skylarks and thus also the evaluation and development of conservation measures. Thus, for the first time, drones will be equipped with infrared cameras and used to find skylark nests.
The overall aim of this master thesis is to develop and test the method of finding skylark nests with drones.  

Project work: You will work in a team of field assistants and a Ph.D. student and have the possibility to learn how to fly drones, how to search skylark nests for the ground level truth, and to conduct your own project. The results are expected to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Requirements: The candidate should have a pronounced interest in ecology and in technology, know the basics in statistics (R), and ideally own a driver’s license.
Field work starts in April 2020.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact PD Dr. Eva Knop, University of Zurich, www.knoplab.ch

Last update: 17.10.2019

 

Light pollution: Indirect effects on plant-pollinator interactions and pollination

Light pollution is globally rapidly increasing, with so far largely unknown consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem functioning. The little evidence we have so far comes from studies focusing on direct effects of light. In this master thesis the overall aim is to focus for the first time on indirect effects of artificial light at night, in particular on its effect on diurnal plant-pollinator interactions and pollination.

Project work: Within a larger and long-lasting running project you will have the opportunity to conduct your own research project. The results are expected to be published in a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

Requirements: You should have an interest in pollination ecology, field work, and global change, know the basics in statistics (R), and ideally own a driver’s license.
Work should start as soon as possible, latest early 2020.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact PD Dr. Eva Knop, University of Zurich, www.knoplab.ch

Last update: 17.10.2019

 

Ecosystem functioning in response to habitat diversity

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will be working on how habitat diversity affects ecosystem functioning in the Swiss farmland. The project involves fieldwork, laboratory work and is part of the National monitoring program of farmland biodiversity (www.allema.ch, based at Agroscope, Zurich).
Due to intensification of agricultural practices farmland biodiversity has experience a strong decline over the past 50 years. There is evidence for a parallel decline of ecosystem functioning, but it is underlying mechanisms are still poorly understood.

Project work: In this M.Sc. project, you would focus on how habitat diversity affects ecosystem functioning. You will use field sites of the ALL-EMA project (www.allema.ch) and experimentally study the effect of habitat diversity on ecosystem functioning by establishing mesocosm experiment on some of the sites. In the project you will have the opportunity to interact with practitioners as well as team members of the ALL-EMA project.

Requirements: Interest in ecology and faunistics of terrestrial invertebrates, German/French and English language skills, valid driver’s licence and driving practice.
Ideally, the M.Sc. project starts in early 2020.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact PD Dr. Eva Knop, University of Zurich, www.knoplab.ch

Last update: 17.10.2019

 

Flowering time variation and adaptation in the grass Brachypodium distachyon

A Master project is available at the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of Zurich, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Anne Roulin.
In plants, flowering time is believed to be adapted to local environmental conditions, as a failure in producing seeds at the appropriate time would lead to the extinction of the individual’s genotype. In this project, you will use genome-wide association (GWAs) and genome-environment association (GEAs) studies to explore how plant populations adapt locally to survive seasonal environmental deterioration. Namely, we will use the plant species Brachypodium distachyon as a system, since natural populations of this Mediterranean grass are known to display a broad range of flowering behaviors.

Your task will consist of:

  • measuring flowering time in a large number of natural accessions originating from France, Spain, Tunisia, Italy, Turkey and Iraq in controlled conditions,
  • assess whether flowering time is correlated with any environmental variables (precipitation, temperature etc…) and adapted to local conditions (GEAs),
  • perform a GWAs to identify potential candidate genes associated to variation in flowering time.

The M.Sc. project can start any time. For more information or to visit the lab, don’t hesitate to contact us at www.botinst.uzh.ch/en/research/evogenomics/roulin.html

Contact: Prof. Dr. Anne Roulin, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of Zurich.

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

Linking environmental stress and adaptation to transposable (mobile) element activity

A Master project is available at the Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of Zurich, under the supervision of Prof. Dr. Anne Roulin.
Transposable elements are mobile DNA sequences that constitute the main component of most eukaryotic genomes. TEs are also functionally important as they can lead to the creation of alternative or new promoters, the rewiring of regulatory networks and the alteration of epigenetic landscapes. External stresses can lead to their mobilization and induce stable transgenerational genetic changes. TEs may thus be especially prone to produce the raw diversity necessary for individuals to respond and adapt quickly to new or changing environmental conditions. Hence, the stress-induced mobilization of TEs is increasingly seen as one of the major drivers of phenotypic diversity and plant evolution.
Using an approach we have previously developed in Arabidopsis and rice, we want to study the adaptive potential and mobility of TEs in the model plant Brachypodium distachyon. By tracking transposable elements in various accessions from different habitats, the project will aim at observing and understanding TE-mediated evolution in real-time.

You are interested in plant genetics/physiology/ecology/evolution and willing to develop skills in molecular biology and/or Bio-informatics

The M.Sc. project can start any time. For more information or to visit the lab, don’t hesitate to contact anne.roulin@botinst.uzh.ch or michael.thieme@botinst.uzh.ch

Contact: Prof. Dr. Anne Roulin or Dr. Michael Thieme, Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of Zurich.

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

Transport and decay of environmental DNA in rivers

We are looking for an enthusiastic MSc student who will experimentally test hypotheses related to the decay and transport of environmental DNA in rivers and what that means for predicting species distributions (based at Eawag, Dübendorf).

Rationale: Recent work has shown that environmental DNA (eDNA) can be used to detect target species and entire communities present in aquatic habitats. However, the transport and decay of eDNA with water flow across river networks complicates the prediction of species distributions from these data. We have developed a model that accounts for this decay, but direct empirical tests of these predictions are lacking.

Project work: In this M.Sc. project you will develop laboratory and field experiments to directly release and capture artificial eDNA molecules and compare their detection and quantification to model predictions. In particular, you will evaluate the feasibility of using high density gypsum blocks with embedded synthetic DNA for slowly releasing artificial eDNA into a river. In a first phase, the design of gypsum blocks will be tested on laboratory settings (e.g. flumes, ponds); subsequently, these eDNA releasing blocks will be put to the proof in a river. qPCR methods will be used to detect the artificial DNA in eDNA samples downstream from the release sites.

Requirements: Interest in ecology and biodiversity, ability to design pilot experiments for method feasibility, some familiarity with statistical computing, and valid driver licence (requires field work with a car) would be essential requirements. Experience in working in a molecular lab would be an additional asset. The M.Sc. project can start any time

The M.Sc. project can start any time. More info: www.altermattlab.ch

Contact: Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, IEU, University of Zurich
Dr. Hanna Hartikainen, Dr. Luca Carraro, Eawag, Department of Aquatic Ecology, Überlandstrasse 133, 8600 Dübendorf
We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 14.11.2018

 

Resilience of meta-ecosystems: how openness and diversity buffer for ecosystem functioning under perturbation

We are looking for an enthusiastic M.Sc. student who will be working on community dynamics and ecosystem functioning. The project involves laboratory work using microcosm experiments and is part of a larger research program (based at Eawag, Dübendorf).
Ecosystems are connected by an exchange of both organisms and resource flows (i.e. degree of openness). Metacommunity studies have showed that intermediate dispersal rates of organisms from a regional species pool can buffer against changes in ecosystem function and diversity after environmental change (spatial insurance hypothesis). However, these studies ignore the fact that ecosystems differ not only in their openness to species dispersal, but also in resource flows. The recently developed meta-ecosystem theory integrates this, and postulates that resource flows between ecosystems matter for ecosystem functioning and its response to anthropogenic pressure.
In this M.Sc. project, you would develop a meta-ecosystem microcosm experiment to obtain a mechanistic understanding if and how organism dispersal versus resource flow affect ecosystem diversity and functioning under environmental stress. This is important, as the degree of openness of ecosystems is currently changing: systems become either more closed through habitat fragmentation or more open through human-induced transportation. We expect that organism dispersal as resource flow can have similar effects to ecosystem functioning, but may strongly depend on the severity of the environmental stress and the diversity present in the meta-ecosystem.

Requirements

  • Interest in ecology and ecosystem functioning,
  • willingness to perform laboratory microcosm experiments with protist species using well-equipped facilities to perform video analysis,

The M.Sc. project can start any time. More info: www.altermattlab.ch

Contact: Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, IEU, University of Zurich and
Dr. Lynn Govaert, Eawag, Department of Aquatic Ecology, Überlandstrasse 133, 8600 Dübendorf
We are looking forward to meeting you!

Last update: 20.09.2018

 

Hidden in the dark: Ecology and faunistics of groundwater amphipods in Switzerland using a citizen science approach

We are looking for an enthusiastic M.Sc. student who will be working on the ecology and faunistics of groundwater amphipods. The project involves extensive fieldwork, laboratory work and is part of a larger research program (based at Eawag, Dübendorf).
Amphipods are a diverse and ecologically highly relevant group of freshwater invertebrates. In a large study program, we have already recorded about 40 different species of Amphipods in Switzerland over the last few years. Thereby, we also discovered a high richness of endemic species, especially among subterranean amphipods of the genus Niphargus. However, their ecology and faunistics are still understudied due to the difficulty in accessing them in caves, groundwater or interstitial habitats.
In this M.Sc. project, you would develop and use a citizen science approach to get amphipod samples from groundwater and spring habitats. You will contact municipal drinking water suppliers in Switzerland, provide them with sampling kits and instructions but also sample the amphipods yourself in their water supply systems. We expect the discovery of several species new to Switzerland, potentially even new to science. You will identify the amphipods using morphological and molecular tools and link their occurrence to environmental/biogeographic variables. The date will be eventually integrated into public databases (CSCF). In the project you will have the opportunity to interact with stakeholders, such as BAFU or cantonal environmental agencies. For more details see:  www.amphipod.ch

Requirements

  • Interest in ecology and faunistics of aquatic invertebrates,
  • German/French and English language skills,
  • interest to work on a stakeholder relevant project (BAFU funded),
  • valid driver’s license and driving practice.

The M.Sc. project can start any time. More info: www.altermattlab.ch

Contact: Prof. Dr. Florian Altermatt, IEU, University of Zurich and
Dr. Roman Alther, Eawag, Department of Aquatic Ecology, Überlandstrasse 133, 8600 Dübendorf

Last update: 22.08.2018

 

Sustainable Food Production with Biologicals – Testing the effects of plant growth promoting mycorrhizal fungi and other microbial consortia on crop yield

Modern conventional agriculture relies heavily on high fertilizer inputs and pesticides to reach high yields. However, easily available phosphate fertilizer sources will be depleted in about 50-100 years and there are concerns that we will face a phosphate crisis endangering agricultural production. Moreover, the production of nitrogen fertilizer is energetically expensive and high levels of nitrate in the ground- and drinking water can pose a significant health risk and have a negative impact on downstream ecosystems. There is, therefore, an increased interest and pressure from society and governments to develop more sustainable agricultural practices and search for alternatives for fertilizer and pesticide use.
There is increased interest to use soil microbes that naturally associate with plants for enhancing plant growth and fitness. One group of microbes with huge potential are the arbuscular mycorrhizal (AM) fungi. AM fungi form symbiotic associations with two-thirds of all land plants and have been repeatedly shown to positively influence plant nutrition and health, as well as enhancing pest resistance. Up to 80% of plant P and up to 25% of plant N can be provided by these plant root symbionts. AM fungi form associations with major crops including wheat, maize, and soybean, as well as with a number of cash crops (crops with high revenues) including tomato, cucumber, apples, and grapes. In this project, you will test the impact of various mycorrhizal fungi and plant growth promoting microbes (e.g. Trichoderma and nitrogen fixing bacteria) on plant yield and plant nutrition under greenhouse and field conditions. The results of this work will help to develop sustainable production systems with reduced fertilizer input.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden (IEU, University of Zurich; Agroscope)

Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zürich

Last update: 29.01.2020

 

Digging Deeper: Effects of Agro-ecosystem diversification and crop rotation on soil life and ecosystem services

Biological diversity is of pivotal importance for ecosystems. Most studies on the importance of diversity for ecosystem functioning have targeted aboveground communities. However, a large part of biodiversity is literally hidden below ground. The consequences of soil biodiversity losses for ecosystem functioning are still poorly understood. This is particularly true in agro-ecosystems, where soil biodiversity declines upon land use intensification are commonly reported. We have previously shown that belowground diversity is key for maintaining multiple ecosystem functions (i.e. multifunctionality) in model ecosystems, and that particular functional groups of soil biota affect ecosystem sustainability by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, immobilizing nutrients and influencing nutrient losses. Here, we build upon those studies and test, for the first time, whether agro-ecosystem diversification can promote soil biodiversity and the delivery of beneficial ecosystem services across Europe. Our central hypothesis is that increased plant diversity will promote belowground biodiversity and related ecosystem services. Digging deeper aims to enhance our understanding of belowground biodiversity and management for ecosystem functioning and service delivery in European agroecosystems through four key objectives:

  • Quantify the impact of land use/agricultural practices, in particular those increasing plant diversity, on soil communities, ecosystem functions and services.
  • Determine the role of soil diversity and biological interactions for multifunctionality of European agroecosystems.
  • Assess the impacts of climate change on the provision of ecosystem services by agroecosystems from different climatic zones, management practices and soil biodiversity levels.
  • Identify innovative land management practices that maximize the delivery of multiple ecosystem services delivered by soil biota.

To address these objectives, we have established a pan-European network (from Sweden to Spain) of 250 agricultural fields that vary in aboveground diversity. This network includes sites from low to high above ground diversity, as well as field experiments where the diversity of agro-ecosystems is manipulated in time or space (e.g. through crop rotation, cover crops, or intercropping). We assess below-ground diversity using high throughput sequencing and we will measure a number of ecosystem functions (plant yield, nutrient cycling, soil aggregation and soil C sequestration, soil N2O sink) acting as surrogates of essential services in agroecosystems. Subsequently, we will use advanced statistical tools to assess the impact of above- and belowground diversity and management on both multifunctionality and individual ecosystem services. This is a multidisciplinary European project and several specific Master projects (with specific themes) are present within the above mentioned framework.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Marcel van der Heijden (IEU, University of Zurich; Agroscope)

Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zürich

Last update: 29.01.2020

 

Automated observation of behaviour

Quantitative measures of the behaviour of many individual organisms over long durations can be very labour intensive, often prohibitively so. Yet such measurements can be the foundation of understanding how organisms interact with their environment, with each other, and how they respond to changing environmental conditions. The project will involve development and testing of a system for automating the process of observing and quantifying the behavioural characteristics of many individuals of different species simultaneously. Small aquatic organisms will be the model system used for development. The project will be of most interest to students with a strong interest in technical development, computational analyses, and organismal biology.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Owen Petchey    

Last update: 29.01.2020

 

Wild bee diversity buffering impacts of climate change on the delivery of crop pollination services?

Wild bees are an important component of agro-ecosystems’ biodiversity and provide vital pollination services to wild plants. Together with honeybees and other managed bees, they also play an important role as pollinators of many crops. Many wild bee species are not only considered to be more efficient pollinators of some crops, moreover crop pollination may also benefit from the broader climatic niches of wild bees, visiting crop flowers also under weather conditions not suitable for honeybees, for example. Overall, more diverse pollinator communities are expected to cover a broader climatic niche and thereby may provide critical insurance functions under projected climate change scenarios. However, there is scarce empirical evidence for this hypothesis.
Detailed information (PDF, 172 KB)
Contact: Dr. Matthias Albrecht  Dr. Louis Sutter

Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zürich

Last update: 18.10.2017

 

Conservation of ground-nesting wild bees in agro-ecosystems

Wild bees are an important component of agro-ecosystems’ biodiversity and provide vital pollination services to wild plants and many crops. In addition to suitable floral food resources wild bees require suitable nesting habitats. Most wild bee species are ground-nester, building their nest in the soil. However, few is known about nesting requirements of most ground-nesting bees. To preserve diverse bee communities and rare bee species, and to promote important crop pollinators in agro-ecosystems, e.g. through agri-environmental measures, we need to better understand the nesting ecology of ground-nesting bees. BSc or MSc projects could, for example, explore the potential of different types of sown flower strips as nesting habitat of ground- nesting bees, or evaluate the effectiveness of creating sand heaps or bare soil patches, or other environmental measures to promote bees and pollination services.
Detailed information (PDF, 193 KB)
Contact: Dr. Matthias Albrecht  Dr. Louis Sutter

Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zürich

Last update: 18.10.2017

 

Enough bees for crop pollination? Estimating potential pollination deficits in Switzerland

Honey bees and wild bees provide vital pollination services to many crops. They are able to increase amount and quality of yield of fruit crops (e.g. apple, cherry, strawberry), arable crops (e.g. oilseed rape, field bean) and vegetables (e.g. pumpkin, cucumber). While the area grown with pollinator dependent crops is increasing, honey bees and many wild bee species are increasingly at risk due to land use change, parasites and pathogen and possibly pesticide exposure. There are concerns that this results in a mismatch of demand and supply of crop pollination services and consequently to yield deficits. Areas of potential pollination deficits in Switzerland have been identified by spatial modelling approaches based on the scarce data available, but these models require validation in the field. Potential projects could measure the level of pollination services delivered by wild and managed bees for one or several selected model crops in a focal region.
Detailed information (PDF, 72 KB)
Contact: Dr. Matthias Albrecht  Dr. Louis Sutter

Agroscope, Reckenholzstrasse 191, 8046 Zürich

Last update: 18.10.2017

 

Global population genetics and marker-assisted performance assessments in the Black Soldier Fly, Hermetia illucens

The Black Soldier Fly (BSF) is a promising candidate for sustainable production of alternative protein in aquaculture and livestock feeding. The study aims at applying newly developed genetic markers (microsatellites) on a large set of worldwide samples, including indigenous populations from the Americas, wild populations established in the (sub-) tropics on other continents, and commercial colonies from all over the world. Population genetic characterisations will be complemented by mitochondrial haplotype sequencing. In addition, suitability of the new markers for future population monitoring and management will be initiatively evaluated based on marker-assisted assessments of important life history traits in different BSF inbred lineages and their reciprocal crosses under standardised conditions, and complemented by GxE experiments on different feeding substrates (organic residues).

Contact: Dr. Christoph Sandrock
Departement of Livestock Sciences, FiBL, Ackerstrasse 113, 5070 Frick

Last update: 18.10.2017

 

Amphibian conservation biology

Various projects are possible in amphibian conservation biology. They range from pure data analysis to experiments and field studies and cover a variety of topics from analysing declines to understanding and measuring the effects of conservation action.
Contact: Dr. Benedikt R. Schmidt    For more information, please see: http://www.popecol.org/join-us/

Last update: 27.01.2020

 

Physiological mechanisms underlying the growth/predation risk tradeoff

Prey animals defend themselves against predators, and usually pay a cost of that defense. Where does the cost come from? The traditional view assumes that prey reduce their foraging activity when they detect predators, therefore consuming less food and growing more slowly. But recent results call this view into question, and suggest instead that physiological changes in prey may be involved. This project will experimentally study the physiological responses of tadpoles (metabolic, digestive, hormonal) to predation risk over different time scales. The results will provide novel insight into mechanisms underlying the tradeoff between growing fast and avoiding predators.
Contact: PD Dr. Josh Van Buskirk    

Last update: 04.02.2020

 

Feedback between herbivores and their prey

In 1960, Nelson Hairston and colleagues published a paper that famously asked the question "Why is the world green?" Many possible answers have been provided over the decades since, but in fact we really don't know why herbivorous animals don't eat up all their prey. Plants do what they can to defend themselves from herbivores, but perhaps herbivores actually have positive indirect effects on their victims. This project will perform experiments with tadpoles and algae in artificial ponds to estimate several different kinds of effects of herbivores on plants, including direct consumption, nutrient recycling, and physical wounding and reduction of self-shading. If successful, this will be the first estimation of these effects within the same system, and will therefore represent a big step toward answering Hairston's question.
Contact: PD Dr. Josh Van Buskirk    

Last update: 04.02.2020

 

The Promise of Rewilding

The project focuses on finding better ways to restore damaged natural systems. Those who rehabilitate degraded lands or reintroduce endangered species must offer a rationale for choosing the target conditions they intend to bring back. But the increasing novelty of ecosystems (because of climate change and invasive species) means that restorationists cannot often use archival and paleoecological data to elucidate target states. They may therefore rely on non-historical rationales for justifying restoration's target conditions. "Rewilding" is an increasingly popular pursuit that requires us to identify optimal wild conditions, as through public surveys or locating reference states. A relevant field site and current restoration project will be studied, within Switzerland or beyond. Key questions include:

  • How can knowledge about the history of a site or species improve its restoration?
  • How can the appreciation of the past (historical sensitivity) improve the practice of restoration?
  • Has wilderness become a modern sacred site?
  • How do linguistic interpretations of "wilderness" in non-English languages affect the practice of rewilding?
  • See our Wilderness Babel

Contact: PD Dr. Marc Hall    

Last update: 26.10.2017

 

Linking ecosystems and human health in the environmental humanities

Ecohealth experts and disease ecologists call attention to the ways that polluted and transformed ecosystems can adversely affect human health. This project explores the relationships between healthy ecosystems and healthy bodies by focusing on the methods of combating malaria, the world's second most deadly killer. Draining wetlands and spraying pesticides kill malaria's mosquito vector, but such activities also alter food webs, modify biodiversity, and threaten human physiology. This project focuses on the Swiss experience with battling malaria during the early 20th century, focusing on the Magadino Delta, Ticino. Sources of information include health experts and ecologists, local archives and libraries, the Swiss Tropical Institute, Basel, and WHO, Geneva. Questions might include:

  • What effects did early malaria control in Ticiono have on the local ecosystems?
  • How did Swiss malariologists utilize ecological principles in their projects?
  • How did antimalarial medications disrupt human health?
  • Can physicians and conservationists today agree that DDT and other powerful pesticides are effective for eradicating global malaria?

Contact: PD Dr. Marc Hall    

Last update: 26.10.2017

 

Invasive alien species: past experience for future management

Plants and animals from afar are transforming ecosystems while changing human societies, for worse and perhaps for better. Recent imports (such as Solidago) exacerbate human allergies or facilitate the spread of disease (as in the case of Aedes albopictus), but many of our most valuable agricultural crops are also alien and sometimes invasive. There is therefore an enormous need to evaluate the invasives, understand their impacts and learn how to manage them. While ecologists study biological relationships of these organisms, there remain surprisingly few studies that address political, social, and historical effects of these creatures. This project thus focuses on these human issues as by consulting experts or interest groups, by searching through natural and human archives, and doing field work. Collaboration with other researchers is encouraged. The following are a sampling of relevant invasive species questions:

  • How have botanical gardens contributed to the spread of alien invasives, and what measures can be used to control them?
  • In which instances have alien invasives been used to contribute to biodiversity protection?
  • What have been the bureaucratic and political challenges to importing analogue (alien) species, such as tortoises in Mauritius, where such organisms are replacing their extinct forerunners?
  • Biocontrols are species imported to control other noxious species. How have cautions over the use of biocontrols changed in the last few decades?

Contact: PD Dr. Marc Hall    

Last update: 26.10.2017

 

Food webs, foraging behaviour, and allometric scaling

Food webs, foraging behaviour, and allometric scaling are coming together to create a new and exciting frontier of research in ecology. This frontier aims to help understand the forces that structure ecological communities, and to provide an empirically evidenced theoretical foundation for predicting effects of environmental change on ecological communities. Relevant environmental changes include extinctions, invasions, temperature fluctuations, and habitat loss. The project will involve researching any of several new ideas in this field, and will suit students with a strong interest in coupling empirical data with theoretical models, and students that have the ability to think broadly and imaginatively while still focusing on a specific research question.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Owen Petchey  Interested students could start by reading an article in Functional Ecology   

Last update: 29.01.2020

 

What determines how fast I eat? Biotic and abiotic influences on feeding rates of aquatic organisms

Understanding how fast organisms eat is key for understanding the dynamics of predator-prey interactions. All sorts of factors can affect feeding rate, and during this project you will conceive, design, perform, and analyse experiments with small predators in lab-based communities. These predators are, despite their small size, quite impressive and voracious consumers! Which factors are investigated, such as prey identity, temperature, and disease, will be decided in collaboration with Owen. Depending on your interests, the project could include modelling of the dynamic consequences of your findings.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Owen Petchey  For an example of the kinds of results and conclusions that a similar study found, take a look at this paper   

Last update: 29.01.2020

 

Evolutionary Biology

Oriental beech for assisted migration in Europe: risk assessment using existing plantations

With the projected increase in droughts, forest management is faced with the challenge of maintaining stable forest ecosystems. Assisted migration (AM) has been suggested as a strategy to mitigate maladaptation due to climate change in long-lived forest tree species, thereby maintaining forest health and productivity. Oriental beech (Fagus orientalis) is one of the key species proposed for AM in Europe. It has been speculated that Oriental beech is a more drought tolerant alternative for European beech (Fagus sylvatica), however, no experimental evidence is supporting this. Further, Oriental beech is closely related to European beech, and the two species can hybridize in their zone of contact in the southern Balkans. Thus, they may also hybridize upon introduction of Oriental beech. First generation of hybrids often have a higher fitness, however, the following generations may experience a decline.

The Masters student will join a collaborative project involving the WSL, the INRAE Nancy (France), the University of Freiburg (Germany). The project is aimed at performing a thorough risk assessment for AM of Oriental beech in Europe using >100 years old Oriental beech plantations and a combination of approaches:

  1. using genetic markers to estimate the rate of hybridization between the two species in situ
  2. comparing growth patterns between the two species in situ
  3. comparing the drought tolerance of seedlings under controlled experimental conditions.

The Master student will be principally involved in tasks 1 and 3, and perform field work in Switzerland and France, microsatellite genotyping in the laboratory at the WSL, recording of eco-physiological traits at the INRAE Nancy in France (around weeks), population genetic and spatial statistical analysis, contribution to the redaction of a manuscript about the results. A strong interest in applied evolutionary and conservation biology is essential, as well as taste for learning and performing a wide variety of tasks from field and laboratory work to analyses and writing

Starting date: as soon as possible - before 1 May 2020

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Katalin Csilleryor Dr. Christoph Sperisen, Swiss Federal Research Institute WSL, Birmensdorf, Switzerland.

Last update: 05.03.2020

 

The flowering regulation pathways of tropical plant species in Southeast Asian tropics

Tropical rainforest is known as a hotspot of biodiversity in which many plant species inhabit. In Southeast Asian tropics, trees flower at irregular intervals from 1 to 10 years. In the flowering period, trees in many plant taxon (trees in canopy, middle layers, and understory) flower synchronously. This taxon-wide flowering phenomenon is called as “general flowering”, fascinating many researchers. Recent researches show the association between the flowering with climate data (rainfall, temperature, etc.), however, the detailed molecular mechanisms have not been understood well.
In this project, you will mainly analyse the transcriptome data of several tropical plant species obtained from Malaysian Borneo to reveal the underling molecular mechanism of general flowering.

Methods to be employed:

  • Gene-coexpression analysis.
  • Time-series data analysis.

According to your interest and the progress of the project, additional analysis and/or experiments will be available.  

Requirements:

  • Interest in bioinformatics using NGS-data. Interest in molecular biology is also welcome.
  • Motivation to perform the bioinformatic analysis with our laboratory members.

Project start: This project can start anytime.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Kentaro Shimizu  or Dr. Yuji Tokumoto

Last update: 06.02.2020

 

The effect of Wolbachia infections on thermal preference and antiviral resistance in Drosophila melanogaster

Both Drosophila melanogaster and the endosymbiotic bacteria Wolbachia are well-studied model organisms that allow to investigate physiological, ecological and evolutionary consequences of host-symbiont interactions. Wolbachia is known to manipulate the host’s reproduction for its own benefit, but can also positively influence resistance against RNA viruses. We previously found that Wolbachia infections also change host behavior and affect their thermal preferences. While the biology behind this behavioral shift remains unknown, it may be a way by which the fly can alleviate negative effects of high bacterial titers. Alternatively, this behavioral change may represent a manipulation by the symbiont to shift the host to the optimal temperature range for the symbiont. In this project, we want to investigate how the interaction between Wolbachia and the common and highly pathogenic Drosophila C Virus (DCV) affects the thermal preference of the host. Preliminary data indicate that DCV infections lead to a preference for higher temperatures irrespective of co-infections with Wolbachia, which indicates that DCV infections overrule the behavioral change due to Wolbachia infections. Building upon these data, we want to further quantitatively investigate (1) if and how co-infections with both symbionts modulate thermal preferences. Moreover, (2) we want to investigate how specific developmental temperatures that correspond to preferred temperatures with and without Wolbachia and DCV infections affect viral and bacterial titers and the survival of the host. Such results are potentially of high socio-economic relevance since Wolbachia infections of mosquitos have been recently established as a means to combat the spread of mosquito-transmitted viral diseases such as Zika and other human pathogenic RNA-viruses.
Contact: Dr. Martin Kapun

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

The effect of Wolbachia on host thermal preference during different developmental stages

Using the well-established host-symbiont model system comprised of the fruitfly D. melanogaster and the bacterial endosymbiont Wolbachia, we previously identified a behavioral change in adult thermal preference with respect to infections with different strains of Wolbachia. We found that the most common Wolbachia strain (wMel) only mildly changed preference towards lower temperatures. In contrast, wMelCS, which was only recently replaced in worldwide populations by the wMel strain, dramatically shifted preference by more than 5°C towards cooler temperatures. We thus hypothesize that carrying the ancestral wMelCS strain may be more costly to the host than being infected with wMel. wMelCS-induced changes in thermal preference across all life stages may delay development and thus reduce the competitiveness for resources of flies infected with this ancestral strain. We want to test this hypothesis by (1) analyzing if symbiont-strain-specific changes in thermal preference along a temperature gradient in the lab are consistent across all life stages, i.e. during oviposition, larval development and pupariation. We further want to investigate (2) how different development temperatures corresponding to thermal preferences affect development time and other fitness traits in hosts infected with different Wolbachia strains. These results may shed light on the poorly understood Wolbachia turnover in worldwide populations within the last 70 years.
Contact: Dr. Martin Kapun

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

Interspecific competition among two closely related Sepsis dung fly species

Sepsis cynipsea and S. neocynipsea are two closely related dung fly sister species that both develop on fresh cow dung and have a broad geographical distribution. While S. cynipsea is found in Europe and Asia, S. neocynipsea occurs mainly in North America but also lives in sympatry with S. cynipsea in Europe. European S. neocynipsea populations are most commonly found at higher altitude but appear to be less competitive than S. cynipsea in lowland locations. While the life history, phenology and morphology of these two species (as well as others) has already been studied to some extent, we are lacking information about the importance of direct competition during development on survival, development and other life-history traits of both species. Such information is needed to understand the ecology, geographic distribution and population dynamics of sympatric and allopatric populations in nature. However, such an endeavour is complicated by the high morphological similarity of the two species. For these reasons, we will (1) use recently generated whole-genome sequencing data to design unambiguous species-specific markers that will permit high-throughput genotyping of experimental flies. Then (2) we will compete sym- and allopatric populations of both species during their development in cow dung by setting up mixed clutches and measure various fitness- traits such as body size, egg-to-adult survival or stress resistance of emerging adult flies. We will additionally modify environmental parameters such as food availability, temperature, etc. to test for environment-specific fitness differences between the two species. These results will help better understand the effects of ecological interactions and genetic variation on the distribution of species sharing similar ecological niches.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn  or Dr. Martin Kapun

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

Thermal preferences of closely related sepsis fly species

Multiple closely related sepsis fly species co-occur on cow pastures in Switzerland. According to ecological niche theory, they should be differentiated to some extent. One trait affecting their geographic and local distribution would be their thermal niche, as some species extend to Scandinavia or higher altitudes in the Alps, while others also occur in southern Europe and North America. We study the thermal niche of these dung flies with various methods. One approach is to assess thermal preferences, singly or in groups, in a “thermal race track” with a temperature gradient in the laboratory, where individuals of a given species, sex, etc. can settle to rest at their preferred temperature as a function of various prior treatments, e.g. acclimation temperature, humidity and the like.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn  or Dr. Martin Kapun.

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

The role of surface pheromones for sexual selection in sepsid flies

Sepsid flies show a high diversity in morphology, sexual size dimorphism, mating system and mating behavior. Sexual selection on body size obviously contributes to the evolution of body size and dimorphism, but will highly depend on the mating system. We study sexual and fecundity selection on body size in various sepsid species. However, behavioral traits such as courtship or short-distance and surface pheromones likely play an equally important role for male mating success as body size. We investigate the role of surface proteins (pheromones) in sexual selection in various sepsid species using gas chromatography and mass spectroscopy.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn  
With Prof. Dr. Florian Schiestl, Department of Systematic and Evolutionary Botany, University of Zurich

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

Size- and nutrient dependent time-budgets and pairing success of yellow dung fly (Scathphoaga stercoraria) males in the field

Animals have to trade off their daily time and their energy reserves between foraging and mating activities. This trade-off likely depends on body size. Yellow dung fly males spend most of their time around dung pats waiting for females to mate with, as this is how they can best maximize their reproductive success. However, individuals have to forage some time for nectar (their energy source) and prey (their source of protein), for which they have to leave the pasture. Small males lose in direct mate competition against larger males, but they could increase their mating success by spending more time at the mating site. The latter is possible if small males need less food and/or if they spend less energy per unit time or body mass. By marking and tracking field males that have been fed different diets, this project assesses the size-dependent time (and energy) budgets of yellow dung flies to find possible physiological advantages of small body size.
Contact: Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn

Last update: 03.02.2020

 

Comparative reproductive behaviour, life history and morphology of sepsid flies (Diptera: Sepsidae)

Males have a limited amount of resources to invest in reproduction. This suggests a rich evolutionary interplay between traits that enhance mating success and those enhancing fertilization success, the outcome of which is expected to vary strongly with the mating system. By using phylogenetic, population genetic and experimental approaches, we investigate in an integrative manner how mechanisms of pre- and post-copulatory sexual selection interact and contribute to the divergence in sexual size dimorphism, genital and secondary sexual trait morphology, and mating behavior among species and populations of Sepsid flies (Diptera: Sepsidae). Three related projects can be offered.

  1. A first project targets the role of pre- and post-mating sexual selection acting on various genital and body traits in several closely related sepsid species.
  2. A second, common garden project addresses the phenotypic plasticity and heritability and hence the evolvability of the studied traits and their scaling relationships in the same species.
  3. A third project is a population genetic/genomic approach that compares quantitative genetic variation relative to that of neutral genetic markers using multiple populations of two species showing contrasting patterns of sexual size dimorphism.
  4. A fourth project employs quantitative trait locus (QTL) mapping of key behavioural, physiological and morphological traits in possibly hybridising, closely related and sympatrically occurring species to identify key candidate genes affecting natural and sexual selection.
  5. A fifth project involves genome-wide association studies (GWAS) of ecologically relevant behavioural, physiological and morphological traits by comparing latitudinal populations of various widespread sepsid fly species in Europe, Asia and North America.

Contact: Prof. Dr. Wolf Blanckenhorn  Dr. Martin Schäfer

Last update: 26.10.2017

 

Efficiency assessment of counter measures to prevent mowing related fatalities in roe deer fawns and demographic modelling of the impact of neonate mortality on roe deer population dynamics

Mowing related mortalities are among the most important causes of deaths of neonate roe deer in many parts of Europe. However, the impact of these fatalities on deer population dynamics is not well known. Different counter measures to prevent neonates to fall victims to mowing machines exist, the efficiency of these different methods, however, has rarely been scientifically assessed and quantified. It is the aim of this Master project to experimentally quantify the efficiency of different prevention measures in the field and theoretically assess the impact of mowing related fatalities on population growth using demographic models (multi-event cause-specific mortality models). For the experimental part the interested student will collaborate with local game wardens and hunter associations during the fawn season in spring. For the modelling part a long term dataset of a mark-recovery project of the Federal Office of the environment is available.
See detailed description in German here (PDF, 243 KB).  

Requirements:

  • Fluent in German (student will work closely with hunters and game wardens in the field)
  • Motivation to work long and irregular hours during the 3 months field season in spring
  • Strong interest in statistical modelling using large datasets
  • Driver’s permit is an advantage.

Project start: Ideally the project will start in fall 2020. The field season will last from end of April until beginning of July 2021.

Contact: For application or additional information, please contact Dr. Benedikt GehrWildtier Schweiz oder Prof. Dr. Lukas Keller, Department of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Sciences, University of Zurich.

Last update: 27.01.2020

 

Chemistry in wild strawberry

Wild strawberry can be found across several environments and climatic zones throughout Europe. In this project, you will use metabolomics to investigate differences in plant chemistry among populations of wild strawberry, focusing on plants recently collected in Switzerland, Italy, and Austria. This project is an excellent opportunity for a student interested in learning more about bioinformatics and metabolomics.
Contact: Dr. Matthew Horton  (matthew.horton at botinst.uzh.ch)  Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of Zurich

Last update: 15.11.2017

 

Root exudate variation among plants

In this project, you will use metabolomics to investigate the compounds secreted from plant roots (root exudates). Because we have high-quality genetic polymorphism data for these samples, you will also be able to investigate the plant genes responsible for root exudates. This project is especially well-suited for students interested in learning more about metabolomics, bioinformatics, and molecular genetics.
Contact: Dr. Matthew Horton  (matthew.horton at botinst.uzh.ch)  Department of Plant and Microbial Biology, University of Zurich

Last update: 15.11.2017

 

The benefits of being parasitized: A humanist’s perspective

Traditionally viewed only as purveyors of disease and harm, parasites of plants, animals and microbes are being reassessed for their innocuous and even beneficial effects to their hosts and ecosystems. As examples of such beneficial effects, parasites may help their invading host colonize new territory, or even help their host fend off more virulent and dangerous parasites. With humans as our case study, humanists and historians need to consider the cultural implications of parasite-laden humans. This project will enrich the McNeill-Crosby Thesis that posites parasites as pathogens in world history by updating it to expose the roles that our many benefical co-travelers play in the story. A varity of organisms and settings can be studied depending on student interest and experience.

Contact: PD Dr. Marc Hall    

Last update: 26.10.2017

 

Studying the outcomes of selection in complex antibiotic environments using experimental evolution

Widespread antibiotic resistance currently poses an eminent public health threat. Excessive use of antibiotics accelerates the spread of resistance. In this project, we plan to study the evolution of antibiotic resistance as a result of prior antibiotic exposure and the role of mutation rate in the same. Specifically, we determined the minimum inhibitory concentrations (MIC) of different antibiotics for a laboratory culture of E. coli. We then selected replicate populations of E. coli in MIC of different antibiotic combinations. The selection was performed for populations with wild type mutation rates as well as populations with elevated mutation rates. 

We now plan to test the resistance status of the selected populations in an array of antibiotics. This will include the MIC estimations for antibiotics that were part of the selection as well as those that were not experienced during the selection. Additionally, we plan to estimate the mutation rates of the evolved replicate populations. 

The specific questions we plan to ask are How does a resistance to antibiotics evolve as a result of selection in complex antibiotic environment? What are the collateral effects of such evolution in context of novel antibiotics? What role does the mutation rate play in this context? There is ample opportunity to expand the enquiry into related questions. 

The project offers an opportunity to learn microbiology techniques as well as essential scientific techniques of literature review, experimental design and statistical analysis.
Contact: Dr. Shraddha Karve Prof. Dr. Andreas Wagner 

Last update: 26.10.2017

 

Condition dependence of male courtship

Males developing under nutritional stress have fewer resources to invest as adults, which can affect their mating success and ultimately their fitness. Using well-studied genetic lines of Drosophila melanogaster, we will test how food stress during larval development affects male wing morphology. Since the wings play a critical role in courtship (including song production), we will further examine how condition-dependent wing morphology influences courtship song characteristics and ultimately male mating success.
Contact: Dr. Stefan Lüpold

Last update: 23.07.2019

 

Sexual selection in a species with extreme sexual dimorphism

This project examines how intra- and intersexual selection may shape the evolution of morphological and behavioural characteristics in Drosophila prolongata, a completely understudied species with extreme sexual dimorphism (including greatly exaggerated forelegs in males), elaborate courtship, and aggressive behaviour among males.
Contact: Dr. Stefan Lüpold

Last update: 23.07.2019

 

Evolutionary history of human parasites

The recent Human Microbiome Project is revealing that our bodies play host to hundreds--if not thousands--of different species in our guts and scalps that may be carrying out beneficial (and not just detrimental) functions to ourselves and our ecosystems. While scholars such as Jared Diamond have explored the role that germs have played in human history, there has been little attention to the role of larger parasites in human affairs, from physiology and behaviour to migration and social interaction. This project will endeavor to produce a cultural history of a key parasite (such as lice, Guinea worms, pinworms, eyelash mites). Questions asked include:

  • How have parasites changed human lifestyles?
  • How have the possible benefits of parasites been utilized by the medical profession, as in the treatment of allergies?
  • Are humans and human activities (through the Gaia Hypothesis) integral to endosymbiotic processes like those forwarded by Lynn Margulis?

Contact: PD Dr. Marc Hall    

Last update: 26.10.2017