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How Moths find their hosts and nectar sources

Supervisors: Prof. Bill Hansson, Dr. Markus Knaden, Department of Evolutionary Neuroethology, MPI-CE; Dr. Ales Svatos, Research Group MS/Proteomics, MPI-CE

Background: Flowers attract nocturnal pollinators mainly by olfactory cues. Pollinators like moths, however, do not only pollinate, but often also oviposit on the very same plants. Therefore, plants face the trade-off of attracting a potential pollinator, which might also harm the plant by ovipositing. As most moths start their activity period with feeding, and only later switch to ovipositing, plants should attract pollinators directly after dusk, but should hide themselves afterwards (i.e. should emit less or other odors). Changes of flower bouquets during the night have been reported. However, whether these changes result in reduced attractiveness to ovipositing moths remains unclear. In this project we will analyze whether the timing of the changes of the plants’ odor profiles is adaptive in order to attract pollinating but hide from ovipositing moths.

Project Description: 1. Identification of plant odor profiles. The plant Datura wrightii and several Nicotiana species present nectar sources and oviposition sources for the hawkmoth Manduca. We will analyze by gaschromatography-coupled mass spectrometry (GC-MS), whether and how the plants change their odor profile during the first 6 hours of the hawkmoths’ activity period. 2. Linking profiles with plant attraction. We will raise plants under different time regimes to be able to present “evening” as well as “midnight” flowers to moths that are either in feeding or oviposition state. 3. Identification of physiologically active compounds. By coupling GC with elctroantennogram recordings with the moths’ antenna we will identify those compounds that are detected by the moths and might be involved in the plants’ attractiveness. 4. Manipulating plant odor profiles. We will manipulate plant olfactory profiles by adding identified physiologically active compounds to unravel whether they are involved in governing pollination and oviposition.

We are looking for a highly-motivated PhD student with a good background in animal behavior and/or in chemical ecology, and that would be interested in establishing and applying technically sophisticated behavioral paradigms. Experience with MatLab software is desirable.

!!Application deadline is September 11, 2015!!

Contact detail

How to apply:
Please apply online at https://imprs-reg.ice.mpg.de
Send application to
The International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS)
Max-Planck-Institute for Chemical Ecology
Beutenberg Campus Hans-Knoell-Str. 8
D - 07745 Jena
You can also contact us via email: imprs2015@ice.mpg.de

Job profile

Working hours
Contract duration
Type of job
PhD Project
Work experience
job experience is not required
Germany (Thüringen)
Working place
07745 Jena
Area of expertise
Biology & Life Sciences, Chemistry