The newly established Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior works closely with the University of Konstanz to gain new insights into the behaviour of animal collectives and global animal movements. It is part of a top-level research hub that also includes the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz and the forthcoming “Centre for Visual Computing of Collectives” (VCC), which is currently under construction on campus. Together, they are in the process of creating a leading research cooperation in the area of “Collective Behaviour” that uses data-based and cutting-edge technologies to study the behaviour of both animal and other collectives.
The new Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior developed out of the Radolfzell subinstitute of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and constitutes an independent research institution that is led by three directors: Professor Martin Wikelski, Professor Iain Couzin and Professor Margaret Crofoot. Research at the new institute will explore animal collectives such as fish, birds, baboons, locusts and fruitbats, among others. Using cutting-edge tracking technology and data analysis, the researchers will uncover the complex behavioural patterns and mechanisms that guide coordination among animal collectives. Another focus will be on studying animal movements within their global habitats.
“The establishment of an independent Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior strengthens our research in the area of ‘Collective Behaviour’ significantly”, says Professor Kerstin Krieglstein, Rector of the University of Konstanz. “The new institute takes our university's long-standing research partnership in this area with the previous Radolfzell and Konstanz branches of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology to an entirely new level. Together, we succeeded in creating a world-leading research hotspot for the study of collective behaviour right here in Konstanz – a highly topical field of research that is as relevant to ecological questions as it is to technology transfer, for instance in the area of self-driving cars”, says Krieglstein.
Top-level research hub in Konstanz
The joint research area “Collective Behaviour” has been expanded continuously by the University of Konstanz and the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology over the past ten years. Pursuing an interdisciplinary approach, research in the area of behavioural biology was combined with research into data analysis and enhanced with perspectives from psychology, physics, the social sciences and economics. Over the years, internationally leading experts in the area of collective behaviour converged in Konstanz; today, the joint research hub on the shores of Lake Constance is a global leader in its field. The establishment of the new independent Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior is the latest step in the evolution of Konstanz into a top-level research hub. “Research into animal behaviour and movements can only succeed if scientists from a wide range of disciplines work together. With the university and its interdisciplinary Cluster of Excellence, Konstanz offers ideal conditions for this”, Martin Wikelski, one of the three directors of the Max Planck Institute, says about why Konstanz was selected to host the new institute.
The long-standing research cooperation was driven forward significantly by the two University of Konstanz professors and directors of the Max Planck Institute Martin Wikelski and Iain Couzin. Martin Wikelski studies global animal movements. Under his leadership, the space-borne ICARUS project was launched in collaboration with the German Aerospace Centre (DLR) and the Russian space organisation Roskosmos: The ICARUS antenna, which was mounted to the International Space Station (ISS) in the summer of 2018, makes it possible to track the global migration paths of animals that have been outfitted with transmitters. Iain Couzin uses cutting-edge tracking technologies to study collective behaviour. He analyses the mechanisms that underlie the coordination and exchange of information within animal groups. Recently, for example, his research involves placing animals in virtual environments to study their behaviour.
The research area received a significant boost from the Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour” at the University of Konstanz. As one of two new Konstanz-based Clusters of Excellence, it was approved for funding in the Excellence Strategy of the federal and state governments in September 2018. At the same time, the foundation was laid for the “Centre for Visual Computing of Collectives” (VCC), which is currently under construction and scheduled to open in 2020. This new research centre at the University of Konstanz will provide globally unique technologies and opportunities for the data-based study of collective and swarming behaviour. Among other things, it will host the “Imaging Hangar”, a high-tech research laboratory capable, through interactive projections, of creating a fully controllable, virtual environment for swarming animals.
The most recent in this line of successes is the Alexander von Humboldt Professorship at the University of Konstanz that was recently awarded to Margaret Crofoot. It helped to win the movement ecology pioneer over to accept a position as a full professor at the University of Konstanz. Margaret Crofoot explores how animal groups in their natural habitats coordinate their collective movements and decision-making processes. To precisely determine the positions and movements of individuals, she combines GPS transmitters with drone footage, using the data thus obtained to understand the decision-making behaviour of animal collectives. As its third director, she completes the board of directors of the new Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior in Konstanz. Crofoot is scheduled to transfer to the University of Konstanz from the University of California, Davis, on 1 July 2019.
- New Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior established in Konstanz.
- Together with the University of Konstanz and its Cluster of Excellence “Centre for the Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour”, the institute is part of the world-leading Konstanz-based research hub on “Collective Behaviour”.
- Board of directors: Professor Martin Wikelski, Professor Iain Couzin, Professor Margaret Crofoot (starting 1 July 2019), all of them professors at the University of Konstanz.
- The Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior developed out of the Radolfzell subinstitute of the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and constitutes an independent institute.