Courses of the Neuroethology Lab

Biology is a quantitative science. As such, basic mathematical and computer-programming skills are necessary for analyzing and interpreting physiological and behavioral data. We offer mostly practical courses and field trips, where we teach and apply these skills in the context of neurobiology.

5. Semester Bachelor Biology

Weakly-electric fish (W2 Block, in German)

Grewe

Schwach-elektrische Fische sind ein spannendes und erfolgreiches Modellsystem der Neuroethologie. Mit ihrem elektrischen Sinn können sie die nähere Umgebung wahrnehmen und miteinander kommunizieren. Die elektrischen Felder der Fische werden von spezialisierten Aktionspotentialen erzeugt und können mit Elektroden einfach gemessen und hörbar gemacht werden. Im Kurs werden zunächst die geometrischen und zeitlichen Eigenschaften der Felder gemessen um ein grundlegendes Verständnis für diesen exotischen Sinn zu entwickeln. In weiteren Versuchen werden verschiedene Aspekte des immer noch recht unbekannten elektrischen Kommunikationsverhaltens untersucht. Für vergleichende Betrachtungen stehen vier verschiedene Arten zur Verfügung. Die Analyse der in den Versuchen gewonnenen Daten wird einen bedeutenden Teil des Kurses ausmachen. Die notwendigen Programmierkenntnisse werden in Form von Übungen während des Praktikums vermittelt. Es wird keine Programmiererfahrung, jedoch ein Interesse an der Datentanalyse mit einer Programmiersprache (Python) vorausgesetzt. Die gelernten Datenanalysetechniken sind in der modernen quantitativen Biologie, insbesondere der Neuro- und Verhaltensbiologie, von zentraler Bedeutung. Verschiedene Aspekte der Sinnesphysiologie der elektrischen Fische werden anhand passender und aktueller Literatur vorgestellt und besprochen.

Master Neurobiology

Introduction to scientific computing (WS, lecture and exercises)

Grewe, Benda

Central to modern scientific research is automated data processing and analysis. In addition to the control of experiments, the processing of big data, and the simulation of models computer, controlled data acquisition and analysis is key to reproducible data and analysis results. For this, knowledge of higher programming languages like for example Matlab or Python is needed.

In addition to the basics of programming and the technical know-how regarding data-analysis techniques we focus in the exercises on the translation of scientific questions into computer programs.

Integrative Neurobiology: Cellular and molecular neurobiology (WS, lecture)

Benda, Volkmer, Arrenberg

Fundamental topics of cellular and molecular neurobiology are introduced in this lecture. A special focus is on ionic currents, equilibrium potentials, time-scales and filter properties.

Integrative Neurobiologye: Tutorial (WS, exercise)

Benda

This exercise accompanies the three lectures "systemic neurobiology", "cellular and molecular neurobiology" and "behavior and cognition". Selected topics of these lectures are exercised in homework problems and discussions.

Models of neural systems (WS, lecture, exercises)

Benda

Neurons are the basic elements of neural systems that process sensory information and generate behavior. To allow for the broad spectrum of brain functions, single neurons already implement complex signal processing tasks. The necessary non-linearities are generated by voltage-gated ion channels and in particular by action potentials. However, these non-linearities make an intuitive understanding and simple qualitative descriptions of brain functions difficult if not impossible. Mathematical models and computer simulations help to overcome these difficulties and are important standard tools in modern neuroscience for the interpretation and generalization of experimental results.

The lecture introduces models of neurons of different complexity from the detailed Hodgkin-Huxley models for action potential generation via integrate-and-fire models to simple firing rate models. Based on these specific examples basic concepts of differential equations, linear system theory, dynamical systems theory and stochastic systems are introduced. These tools are essential for modelling neural systems and other complex systems like, for example, signaling cascades and population dynamics. Central to the module are the exercises that match the topics from the lecture and repeat the necessary math basics.

Sensory systems in natural environments (SS, field trip)

Benda, Skorjanc

Sensory systems and communication behaviors show a large diversity even in closely related species. This diversity results among other things from adaptation to highly specific natural habitats and from evolution of intraspecific communication. Despite that, studies of sensory systems are usually limited to a small number of established model systems in a few model species, done in well controlled laboratory conditions with standard stimuli. In our field course we want to analyze the richness and variability of natural stimuli and interfering noise signals in the natural habitats. At the same time we want to study behavior and sensory physiology in different species to see how they use their sensory systems in these environments. Through this comparative approach we want to send sensory systems from the lab back into their natural context.

The dry meadows of Slovenian Karst boost with high density of different insect species. There we will focus on the songs and the auditory system of grasshoppers and bush-crickets. Both behavioral observations and experiments as well as electrophysiological recordings in the lab and in the field are the focus of the field trip. In addition we will have little projects on vibrational communication in Cicadinae, insect vision, and filiform sensilla in bugs (Heteroptera).

Neotropic diversity of adaptations, a glance through plant physiology and plant-animal interactions (field trip in September)

Harter, Benda

In this field trip students will learn about the primary motors for biological diversification regarding plant physiology and interactions with animals throughout different ecosystems of Colombia. We aim to observe and discuss the interface of Plant-Animal-Human interactions across different landscapes and ecosystems, highlighting the importance of each player within these relationships.