Have you ever tried to walk around in the fields or a forest at night, without any artificial light, just relying on your eyes? Then you might know that we humans are rather poor in seeing at very low light intensities.
Nevertheless, many animals have mastered a nocturnal lifestyle, using vision to navigate and forage, even with more than one million times less light available than on a sunny day. My thesis aims at describing and localizing adaptations for nocturnal vision in the brain of hovering hawkmoths. To this aim I compare both anatomy and physiology of visual brain areas in different species of hovering hawkmoths with different lifestyles: nocturnal, crepuscular and diurnal. The techniques I use include the Golgi method, immunohistochemistry and intracellular electrophysiology.
'To suppose that the eye with all its inimitable contrivances for adjusting the focus to different distances, for admitting different amounts of light, and for the correction of spherical and chromatic aberration, could have been formed by natural selection, seems, I freely confess, absurd in the highest degree.'
This famous quote pinpoints my early fascination for eyes and vision, which I brought with me into my bachelor studies in biology at the University of Heidelberg, in Germany. Being fascinated by the evolution and development of eyes, I did my bachelor’s thesis working on the role of Müller glia cells in retina development in fish, by transgenically manipulating their proliferation control. The same interest brought about my first contact with the Vision Group, because I was fascinated by the fact that box jellyfish have evolved quite elaborate eyes, considering their place in the phylogenetic tree. Therefore I came as a summer student to Lund, investigating visual navigation in box jellyfish both by behavioral experiments and developing a computational model of the interaction of their swim pacemakers.
During my masters in systems neurobiology in Munich, Germany, I began to focus stronger on the sensory aspect of vision, and in terms of methods, I became fascinated by electrophysiology when I was working on the encoding of information in the amphibian retina as a student research assistant at the Max-Planck-Institute. For my master’s thesis I left vision and made an excursion to a very exotic sense: the active electrosensation of South American weakly electric fish (“Encoding of communication signals in the weakly electric fish Eigenmannia virescens”).
After working predominantly with vertebrates, exclusively with aquatic animals, and mostly in the sensory periphery, I am looking forward to the challenges that await me working in visual processing areas of the brains of my hovering hawkmoths.