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Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin

Gips-Schüle & Max Planck Research Group Leader


I study the mechanisms and consequences of collective behavior in biological and social systems. I am especially interested in understanding how animal groups make collective decisions and coordinate collective action, and in particular how these processes are affected by the social relationships between group members and the communication strategies they employ. I work across a range of study systems to tackle these questions, in close collaboration with researchers across a variety of disciplines.

Originally from Chicago, I did my undergraduate degree in Physics at Swarthmore College, then did my PhD in Quantitative and Computational Biology at Princeton University. I then moved across the pond to Europe, where I held post doc positions at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology and the University of Zurich before moving to Konstanz in 2018. When not working, I enjoy traveling (especially via Swiss transit), cooking, eating, riding my bicycle, and learning German.

Vlad Demartsev

Humboldt Postdoctoral Fellow

I am a behavioural ecologist interested mainly in the topics of mammalian vocal communication in social settings.  For the past 9 years, I have focused on the interplay between different aspects of the social environment with different aspects of signalling tactics and signal structure. I have investigated how the presence, composition and attentive state of conspecific audience affect individuals` signalling behaviour. On the flip side, I have explored how individuals` are able to maximize their gain from signalling and reach a more abundant and attentive audience by correctly timing their signalling events and also producing signals which are more effective in gaining and maintaining audience attention. 

Currently, I am in the process of conceptually and methodologically developing a project dealing with the motivational phase of vocal signalling in an attempt to detect the animals' preparations and intentions to vocalize. Additionally, I am also interested in investigating animals’ ability to maintain continuous vocal interactions which include multiple interactions turns and dynamic informational content.  I have a very strong preference for field-based, experimental studies, as they allow us to witness animal behaviour in its natural ecological and biological contexts. 


Kiran Dhanjal-Adams

Postdoctoral Researcher

I am an ecological modeller working as a postdoc in the group. I am using machine learning to classify calls in meerkats, hyenas and coatis, to better understand how communication influences group dynamics over multiple spatial and temporal scales. My research focuses on many different aspects of animal movement – How do we track animal movements? How can we analyse and understand individual behaviours? How does this influence population-level dynamics? And how do we protect a species when it is in perpetual motion?

Prior to this, I worked as a postdoc at the Swiss Ornithological Institute (bird migration) and at the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology (agricultural management), after completing my PhD at the University of Queensland (conservation planning). I did my undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen (Ecology) and my Masters at the University of York (Computational Biology).


Vivek Hari Sridhar

Postdoctoral Researcher

I'm an evolutionary biologist interested in the interplay between individual and group level properties in animal societies. More specifically, how selection operating on decision rules adopted by individuals affects collective motion, environmental sensing, information propagation and collective decision making, and how these group level properties in turn affect individual fitness. Currently, I analyse GPS-based movement data, and acoustics to understand how meerkats use vocal communication to coordinate movement.


Prior to this, I completed my PhD in the Department of Collective Behaviour, also at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behavior where I used theory and experiments to study decision-making in insects and fish, and leadership in fish schools.


Mara Thomas

Post doc

I’m interested in using computational methods to analyze animal communication. I have a M.Sc. in Biological Sciences from the University of Konstanz and a PhD in Neuroscience from the Graduate 
Training Centre of Neuroscience in Tuebingen. Next to my PhD, I started a M.Sc. in Bioinformatics at the University of Tuebingen did my master thesis in the CoCoMo group.

I’m interested to see whether unsupervised clustering methods can reveal patterns in animal vocalizations that are biologically meaningful. Currently, I’m analyzing a set of meerkat calls and 
comparing the results from unsupervised clustering to those obtained by manual labelling. I’m comparing different methods for feature extraction, dimensionality reduction and clustering and am planning to apply the methods to other species as well. More generally, I’m interested in all types of data-driven research that aim to decipher emotions and intentions of animals.


Baptiste Averly

PhD Student

I am interested in understanding how animals within social groups perceive and interact with one another, exchanging and exploiting information to adjust their behaviour in different ecological contexts. What particularly fascinates me is the question of how local interactions between individuals can scale up to complex and relevant group-level responses that are more than the sum of their parts. After undergraduate studies in France and Canada, for my Master’s thesis I studied the use of social information in multi-species flocks of tits foraging during winter along an altitudinal gradient.

For my PhD, which I started in September 2018, I am collecting high-resolution spatial and acoustic data on whole groups of meerkats in their natural habitat using custom-made collars, to understand how collective decision-making is achieved during group movement in this social species with complex vocal communication. Of particular interest to me is the way individual variations and social structure can influence how pairs of individuals respond to one another in different contexts of movement, and how this ultimately affects patterns and processes at the group level. 

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Emily Grout

PhD Student

I am interested in the behavioural ecology of social mammals, with a focus on field-based data collection. My undergraduate degree was in Zoology at the University of Bristol, where I continued as a masters by research student. For my masters, I studied alloparental care in a habituated population of wild dwarf mongooses in South Africa at the Dwarf Mongoose Research Project. I collected detailed observations of adult-pup interactions to assess the different types of alloparental activities which are exhibited and whether dominance status, sex and age influenced variation between these caring tasks.

For my PhD, I will be studying communication and collective movement of white-nosed coatis, which live in forested areas in the Americas. I will be recording acoustic and movement data from the majority of coati group members using custom built collars to analyse how group cohesion is coordinated and maintained through acoustic communication. I am excited to be combining detailed field-based observations with new tracking technologies to answer questions about the mechanisms underlying collective movement in social mammals.


Pranav Minasandra

PhD Student

I am fascinated by behaviours exhibited by animal collectives, such as movement and synchronisation. I am also intrigued by computational and theoretical methods in biology, and love handling interesting datasets. My Master's and Bachelor's, both in biology, were completed in the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. There, I worked on grouping in blackbuck, collective track formation by herbivores, and several other problems. In collaboration with Ari, during my master's I studied behavioural dynamics using accelerometry of spotted hyenas.


During my PhD, I will look at the synchronisation of wake-sleep cycles in social animals, using cichlids as model organisms. For this, I will use model fitting to test whether social factors affect circadian rhythms. I am particularly glad that the project is quite open-ended, and thus allows me to approach the problem from computational, theoretical, and experimental approaches.


Katja Della Libera

Undergraduate (Minerva School at KGI)

I am an undergraduate student interested in the mechanisms underlying collective movement in animals, specifically the influence of animal personality, and computational models of such movement. In 2021, I am finishing my liberal arts double-degree specializing in earth’s systems and data science at Minerva School at KGI.


For my capstone project, I am working on a project with the Communication and Collective Movement Group and the Leu Lab for Behavioral Ecology and Evolution at the University of Adelaide. I am analyzing at a dataset of GPS-tracked sheep and experimentally determined behavior scores of these sheep to determine the influence of personality on movement patterns and group stability.

Previously, I have spent a summer at the Santa Fe Institute looking at an ecological model based on the nutritional state of individuals in a food chain, and have interned at Wolfram Research as a mentor and software developer. In my free time, I love birdwatching, contributing to citizen science projects, and running.



Rebecca Schaefer

Field Assistant

I graduated from Flinders University, South Australia with First-Class Honours in a Bachelor of Science (Animal Behaviour) combined with a Bachelor of Behavioural Science (Psychology). My main focus for my Honours was looking at the interaction between Behavioural and Physiological Responses, as well as individual differences in stress levels and personality, to determine appropriate conservation measures to help sustain at risk populations. I’m also very interested in the evolution of cognition in animals particularly in social living species, looking at such areas as; their innovative abilities, different learning style, and how these differ between the sexes.

Since graduating I have completed an internship working with little penguins (Eudyptula minor) on Philip Island, Australia using accelerometer and GPS biologgers to help determine their movement whilst out at sea.

Most recently, I have been working at the Kalahari Meerkat Project (KMP), South Africa collecting data on their; co-operative behaviours, group structure and movements, as well as metamorphic measurements. I worked on site at the KMP in July - Sept 2019 assisting with building and deploying custom collars for the meerkats to collect spatial and acoustic data.

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