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axel at ncbs dot res dot in
Neurobiology

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Honeybees and the mechanism of behavior

I am interested in the mechanisms of animal behavior. Honeybees provide the opportunity to study mechanisms of behavior at the level of the individual and the level of the social organization. Moreover, honeybees are one of the few animal model systems to study the interaction between individual behavior and social organization. We are able to manipulate the social structure and analyze its effects on the individual’s behavior, brain physiology, and brain gene regulation.

So far, most behavioral and neurobiological research on honeybees focused on the European-African species Apis mellifera, unfortunately neglecting the variability in social organization and individual behavior among honeybee species. Honeybee species particularly vary in colony organization, worker activity and longevity, pheromone communication and dance language communication. A special focus of my lab will be research on Asian honeybee species native to India: Apis florea (the red dwarf honeybee), Apis dorsata (the giant honeybee), and Apis cerana (one of the Asian cavity nesting honeybees). The genomes of all three species are currently sequenced which will open the possibility to analyze the molecular underpinnings of behavioral differences and the evolution of these behaviors.

In addition to studies on honeybee behavior, I plan to expand my research on Drosophila. Currently, I am developing lab assays that can be performed with honeybees and flies. The neurogenetic tools available for Drosophila allow identifying neural circuitries involved in specific behaviors, and the hope is that Drosophila can help to identify neural circuits involved in honeybee behavior. These projects will be done in collaboration with Drosophila labs at NCBS and Washington University, Saint Louis.