Organismic Biology
Prof. Dr. Klaudia Witte
AR-D 6015
on appointment
+49 (0)271/740-2758
+49 (0)271/740-14546

Institute of Biology
Department of Chemistry – Biology
Faculty of Science and Technology
University of Siegen
Adolf-Reichwein-Str. 2
57076 Siegen

Many behavior patterns can be attributed to the interaction of individuals with their environment (e.g. friend and foe, potential mating partners, competitors, dominant or submissive conspecifics, or predators). Accordingly, many behavior patterns are not only based on innate traits, but also on learned ones such as individual experiences or the observation of conspecifics. The most important underlying mechanism influencing an animal’s behaviour in its environment is its ability to learn and remember: learning is the process by which (new) knowledge, different aspects and information about the environment are acquired, while memory encodes, stores and recalls the acquired knowledge depending on the situation. Hence, learning is crucial for any agile behavioral adaptation, commonly referred to as ‘behavioral plasticity’.

Behavioral plasticity is based on the brain’s so-called ‘neuroplasticity’, which is based on a variety of structural and functional adaptability mechanisms. In the human brain, for instance, there are about 100 billion nerve cells (neurons) that interact with each other via axons and dendrites. Within the brain, however, the neuronal network is not immutable; instead new activity-dependent associations are established, which can be continuously modified, weakened or strengthened by learning and experience (so-called ‘structural and synaptic modifications’). This does not only occur between two neurons, but also in complex neuronal networks. Depending on the location within the brain, groups of neurons (‘nuclei’), for instance, take over very specific (sub-) tasks or store new information in a retrievable way. These processes are fundamental prerequisites for all types of learning and memory in all vertebrates – ranging from fish to humans. Neuroethology represents the interdisciplinary link between behavioral research and neurobiology. Following several years of research on the visual abilities of bamboo sharks (Hemiscylliidae), their mechanisms underlying learning and memory, and the structure and interaction of related brain areas, my current research focusses on cognitive sex-specific differences of poeciliid fish species, their abilities in individual trial & error learning, social learning and their cognitive behavioral flexibility. I am also performing neuroethological experiments in order to determine which brain regions are involved.

My research explores the close association between behavior and neurobiology. For instance, what is going on in the ‘brain black box’ in different situations like spatial orientation, visual discrimination of different (living) objects, or interaction in complex social groups with conspecifics, friend or foe? How do fish deal with all these tasks even though their brains are about 10,000 times smaller than the human brain and do not contain a neocortex, which characterizes the mammalian brain? In other words, how are ‘hardware’ and ‘software’ underlying certain behaviors designed and organised?

Want to join in? Would you like to carry out behavioural experiments on guppies and Atlantic mollies during your master thesis? Then feel welcome to contact me! Bachelor and Master theses are available by prior agreement at any time.