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Members

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Ariana Strandburg-Peshkin

Group Leader

astrandburg at ab.mpg.de

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.

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Vlad Demartsev

Postdoc (CASCB)

vdemartsev at ab.mpg.de

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. 

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Gabriella Gall

Postdoc (CASCB)

gabriella.gall at uni-konstanz.de

My current research aims to understand how differences in early experiences can affect an individual’s ability to coordinate effectively with group members later in life and whether and if so, how these differences ultimately affect individual fitness. I address these questions using two study systems, the domestic chicken and the common pheasant, and make use of the fact that both species are highly vocal and use acoustic signals to coordinate group activities. This work is in close collaboration with Prof Madden (University of Exeter) and Prof Radford (University of Bristol).

I completed my PhD on meerkat group coordination and decision-making at the University of Zurich, after which I studied the effect of anthropogenic disturbances on the social cohesion of California ground squirrels in collaboration with Dr Smith at Mills College. I also did a postdoc with Dr Meroz at Tel Aviv University to study the self-organisation of mutually shading sunflower plants. When not at work I love everything related to the arts and crafts and always appreciate a donation of wine-corks.

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Julian Zimmermann

Postdoc

jzimmermann at ab.mpg.de

I am a physicist stumbling into the exciting field of animal ecology. In all generality, my research is about adapting machine- and deep-learning methods to scientific domains, such as bioacoustics.

Originally from Berlin, I have a somewhat scattered cv where I started as a trained audio technician, worked briefly in the film industry, and then studied physics, where I did a Bachelor's and Master's thesis in Geophysics. Then, I completed my doctorate in nonlinear quantum optics and collective many-body effects in nanoparticles. After a PostDoc at ETH Zurich, where I led the machine-learning team in the Nanostructures and Ultrafast X-ray Science group of Daniela Rupp, I am now working on representation learning of animal vocalizations.

The questions I am trying to answer are primarily concerned with finding a measure for similarity in animal vocalization (For example, for unsupervised classification of call types, subsequent identification of individuals, or sorting calls w.r.t. external levels of threat), where I use techniques from self-supervised learning.

When not sitting in front of a PC, I spend my remaining time with my family, where my daughter recently discovered that she is the boss of it all.

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Pritish Chakravarty

Postdoc

pchakravarty at ab.mpg.de

I am an engineer interested in the measurement and analysis of animal behavior. I use on-animal sensors to record animal behavioral data, and analyze these by developing new quantitative methods. These analyses are driven by ecological research questions, where I collaborate closely with behavioral ecologists. Past and ongoing projects include fine-scale foraging strategies and energetics in meerkats, movement patterns of leopard tortoises, and perception and motion of fish in visually noisy environments. My current work focuses on quantifying sleep patterns in the wild across animal species using accelerometers.

A Bengali from Chandigarh, I did a BTech in Chemical Engineering (Hons) from the Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India. After continuing there as a Research Assistant in Microfluidics, I moved to Switzerland to do an MSc in Bioengineering (minor in Biomedical Technologies) from the Ecole Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL); my Master thesis was done partly at the Swiss BioMotion Lab and partly at the Stanford BioMotion Lab. I then did a PhD in Measurement and Analysis of Animal Behavior from EPFL. Following that, I did two postdocs, one at the University of Zurich and another at the University of Cambridge. In the past, I would devote my spare time and energy to table tennis, squash, guitar-playing and singing-songwriting, but now these have been supplanted by reading and meditation.

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Emily Grout

PhD Student

egrout at ab.mpg.de

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.

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Pranav Minasandra

PhD Student (DAAD Fellow)

pminasandra at ab.mpg.de

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.

My PhD addresses a variety of questions, from the synchronisation of circadian rhythms in spotted hyenas to the dynamics of behaviour at the fine scale across species and the validity of information theoretic methods in the study of behaviour.

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Chi Hsin Chen

PhD Student

cchen at ab.mpg.de

I am interested in social cognition, communication and decision-making in animal societies. I did my B.Sc. in Psychology at University of Marburg, and my M.Sc. in Ethology at Université Sorbonne Paris Nord. I completed my two master’s theses on vervet monkey friendships at University of Lausanne, and on chimpanzee social cognition at the Max-Planck Institute of Evolutionary Anthropology, respectively. After my master’s, I spent a year doing field work at the Kokolopori Bonobo Research Project in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where I worked as a data collection coordinator and did extensive behavioral observations of wild bonobos.

For my PhD, I will be studying how spotted hyenas communicate to obtain relevant information which further shapes their decision-making on group coordination. I am excited to combine acoustic, GPS and accelerometer data to address questions on the social decision-making process in spotted hyenas from the Mara Hyena Project in Kenya.

I am originally from Taiwan, a subtropical island with high biodiversity in the Pacific. When I am not working, I enjoy painting with watercolor, camping, traveling with a canoe or my bike, running in the forest or snorkeling in the tropical ocean.

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Jana Woerner

Visiting PhD Student (DAAD Fellow, Michigan State University)

jwoerner at ab.mpg.de

I am a visiting PhD student from the Holekamp Lab at Michigan State University. I completed my undergraduate degree in wildlife ecology at Duke University. I am interested in behavioral ecology, especially foraging and hunting in social carnivores. I am a field biologist at heart and have spent close to 3 years observing spotted hyenas in the wild through the Mara Hyena Project in Kenya.

For my PhD, I will use GPS, audio, and accelerometer data collected through tracking collars to study the foraging behavior of these spotted hyenas. I am especially interested in the social dynamics that influence participation in group hunts.

I am originally from Germany, but moved to the United States when I was younger. I am excited to be back here and practice my German. When not at work, I enjoy riding my bike, lifting weights, reading books, and traveling.

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Marius Faiß

PhD Student

mfaiss at ab.mpg.de

I am interested in Bioacoustics, which nicely combines my passion for music, audio production and evolutionary biology. Within this field, I have been lucky to learn about aspects of sound production and communication in very different groups of animals and scientific contexts.

During my Bachelor’s degree at Universität Münster, I explored sound production and vocal learning in songbirds and hummingbirds. During my Master’s degree at Leiden University I investigated the involvement of visual cues in zebra finch call exchanges using a robotic bird. I also worked on a project focused on compiling high-quality datasets of grasshopper and cicada sounds for training species classifiers, as well as testing new machine-learning methods for encoding high-frequency audio signals.

In my PhD project, which is part of the EU-funded BioAcoustic AI Consortium, I will study the dynamics and functions of vocal interactions in social mammals. I will analyse movement and audio data collected from wild animal groups. I will also explore and implement machine-learning methods that are specifically suited to detect and analyse animal vocalisations from a broad range of species.

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Ritam Das

MSc Student (IISER Mohali)

ritam.das at ab.mpg.de

Hi, I'm Ritam! I am currently working as a student assistant in the CoCoMo group, collaborating with Julian on a research project as part of my master's thesis. My work involves using machine learning algorithms to analyze meerkat bioacoustic data to detect vocalization events.

I am a final year BS-MS student majoring in physics at IISER Mohali, India. I am fascinated by collective and social behaviour in animal groups. Having studied physics in my undergrad, I am very excited to get a taste of the wildly diverse field of animal behaviour.

I am originally from Kolkata, India. When I am not breaking my head over a stubborn piece of code, I love cooking (and eating!). I am also a big football fan and can go on for hours on football and politics.

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Mosia Rasekuwane

MSc Student (University of the Free State)

2015142041 at ufs4life.ac.za

I am interested in studying the behaviour of animals as we can learn a lot from them. For example, we can tell when group-living animals are about to collectively move due to the use of their signals which can either be visual, auditory, olfactory, and acoustic. My undergraduate degree and honours degree were both in Zoology and both of them were completed at the University of the Free State, South Africa, where I am currently pursuing my MSc degree in Zoology. For my honours project, I investigated paw preference/use in bat-eared foxes (Otocyon megalotis) using video data (foxes interacting with food puzzles) that was collected in another study that was testing novelty in this species at the Kalahari Research Center (KRC) where I also collected my MSc data.

My MSc work focuses on collective movement in meerkats (Suricata suricatta). I attached custom-built collars that had GPS tags and microphones on meerkats for data collection. Therefore, I look at the effect of relative meerkats’ spatial position on foraging success using their daily morning weight gain as a measure of foraging success. Again, I also investigate the motivation of move call production in this species using chewing sound frequency as a measure of foraging success. I want to see if individuals with low chewing sound frequency, indicating poor foraging, will produce more move calls signaling that they want to move to another foraging patch.

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Annika Eiberle

MSc Student

aeiberle at ab.mpg.de

Hi! I am Annika and I am a master’s student in Biological sciences at the University of Constance.

For my master’s thesis, I am studying recruitment events in meerkats and investigating how participation in risky actions is determined on an individual level and how these actions emerge on a group level. There, I am especially interested in how information is propagated and responded to. To address this, I will combine video, GPS and audio data.
In general, I am interested in how animal behavior is affected by environmental changes, focusing on group cohesion and animal communication.

When I am not working, I enjoy reading books, relaxing on the couch and crocheting or going to the gym.

Alumni

Rebecca Schaefer (Field Assistant, 2019)

Katja Della Libera (Undergraduate Thesis Student, 2020-2021)

Mathieu Duteil (Postdoc, 2020-2021)

Pauline Toni (Field Assistant, 2021)

Camille Lysemna (Field Assistant, 2021)

Kiran Dhanjal-Adams (Postdoc, 2019-2021)

Mara Thomas (MSc Student, 2020-2021; Postdoc, 2021)

Baptiste Averly (PhD Student, 2018-2022)
Vivek Hari Sridhar (Postdoc, 2021-2022)

Julián León (Visiting PhD Student, 2021-2022)

Ingerid Helgestad (Research Assistant, 2021-2022)

Annika Eiberle (BSc Student, 2022)

Anka Pohle (MSc Student, 2022-2023)

Amlan Nayak (MSc Student, 2022-2023)

Sharaj Kunjar (Undergraduate Thesis Student, 2021-2022; Technical Assistant 2022-2023) 

Elizabeth Neuhaus (BSc student, 2023)

Nico Gradwohl (Postdoc, 2021-2023)

Katharina Dettmer (BSc Student, 2023)

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