We all experience our surroundings through the windows of our senses. It is this interface between an organism and the rest of the world that determines much of what one perceives as reality. Depending on the number and nature of one’s senses, one can get an extremely different perspective of the world. Driven by the need to adapt to particular habitats and lifestyles, organisms have evolved a remarkable range of sensory systems and we are still far from understanding them all. I am mainly interested in vision and especially fascinated by the “secret” senses, i.e. by those senses that humans lack. One such sense is the ability to detect the polarization (plane of vibration) of light.
My research career started at the University of Tübingen, Germany, where I received my Master’s degree studying the eyes of the Vietnamese leaf turtle (Geoemyda spengleri), a small reptile with amazing accommodation abilities.
When I moved to the University of Zürich, Switzerland, to do my PhD, my research focus turned to insects. Many insects are able to detect the polarization of skylight, which they exploit as a compass for orientation. I investigated the limits, the diversity and the evolution of this extraordinary visual sense using crickets (Gryllus bimaculatus, Gryllus campestris) and fruit flies (Drosophila melanogaster) as examples. In addition, I analyzed the phylogeny and distribution of photopigments in the ocelli and the compound eyes of the two-spotted cricket (Gryllus bimaculatus).
Currently I am studying female colour-polymorphism as well as male spectral and polarization sensitivity in a common European damselfly species (Ischnura elegans). Apart from that, I am addressing the question whether filtering pigments in the eyes of the South American butterfly Heliconius erato influence its colour vision.
Between my Master’s and my PhD, I was a field assistant in Madagascar where we investigated the nocturnal foraging behaviour of the grey mouse lemur (Microcebus murinus). Along with other field trips to regions close to the equator, this has inspired my deep love of the tropics, and I now try to travel there whenever possible. Further favourite activities of mine are acrobatics, dancing, photography and learning languages.
- behavioural tests
- photo-refractometry, optical measurements
- light and transmission electron microscopy
- cloning, in situ hybridization
- computer based modelling and simulation
- extra- and intracellular electrophysiological recordings