Dr Stephanie Wendt
Lehrstuhl für Zoologie / Evolutionsbiologie
(+49) 941 943 3356
I have been conducting research on ant behavior since my bachelor’s studies at the University of Würzburg. My main focus is on foraging and recruiting behavior in nectar collecting ants, but I have also examined fungus deposition and waste relocation in leaf cutter ants.
Interestingly, many ant species use pheromone trails to lead their nestmates to attractive food sources. This trail-laying behavior can easily be observed, as the ants stop running for a short moment and press the tip of their gaster onto the ground, in order to apply the pheromone. These pheromone marks can be counted and used as an evidence for the intensity of a pheromone trail. The stronger a pheromone trail, the more likely ants are to follow it. Thus, ants adapt the intensity of a pheromone trail to the value of a food source, laying more pheromones to more valuable food sources. Because of this, the recruiting behaviour can show us how much an ant values the discovered food source.
Currently, I am a PhD student in the ACElab and am investigating value perception in the black garden ant, Lasius niger. Animals are often assumed to behave rationally, by weighing gains against losses, unlike humans who often to judge things irrationally. However, our pilot data show that ants value food sources relative to a reference point – a prediction of Prospect Theory, an influential theory in economics. I will use trail-laying behavior as an indicator to see how much an ant values a given food source in comparison to a fixed reference point (sucrose droplet of fixed molarity).
Whilst the main project of my PhD is to examine the value perception in the ant Lasius niger, I will also be doing a lot of side projects and additionally investigate the value perception in the fruit fly Drosophila melanogaster.
Current and future projects:
Self control in ants – can ant workers forego immediate feeding at food sources in order to exploit better food sources they know about?
Value perception in ants – how does expectation affect the perceived value of a food source
Value perception in Drosophila- how does expectation affect the perceived value of a food source?
The nest as an information hub - how does the quality of food returned to the nest affect how other ants perceive the value of food in the environment?