Although insects have a miniature brain, they show astonishing abilities in spatial orientation and navigation. As a compass cue for these tasks, many insects use the sun or the moon and the polarisation, intensity and spectral patterns that they create in the sky. My research focuses on the understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying the processing of sky compass signals in the brain of insects.
My scientific career started in Marburg (Germany), where I studied Biology from 2003-2008. During my Diploma thesis, I worked anatomically on the brain of the sphinx moth Manduca sexta with the main focus on the olfactory system. Afterwards, I switched the model organism/topic for my PhD thesis and physiologically and morphologically analysed the processing of sky compass signals in the brain of the desert locust Schistocerca gregaria.
In my current project, I am working on South African dung beetles (Scarabaeus spp.). Behavioral studies showed that they rely strongly on sky compass signals when rolling dung balls away from a dung pile. However, the neuroarchitecture of the brain, and thus the neural circuit processing sky compass signals in the brain of dung beetles, are completely unexplored. Therefore, I am analyzing the physiology of the neural network for sky compass vision in the dung beetle brain through intracellular recordings. In addition, these physiological analyses are combined with immunohistochemical methods, confocal microscopy and 3D reconstruction of brain areas and single neurons.