Dr. Tomer J. Czaczkes
ACE Group leader
Lehrstuhl für Zoologie / Evolutionsbiologie
(+49) 941 943 2461
My first scientific contact with ants was seeing people drop ants from a bridge in a rainforest. When I asked why they were doing that, they said “for science”. I knew then and there that I wanted to be an experimental biologist.
My doctoral studies introduced me to the black garden ant Lasius niger, the most common ant in Europe. It is a fantastic study organism, as it is very robust and easy to manipulate. Most importantly, as with many other ants, L. niger communicate with each other by laying chemicals – pheromones – on the ground, to lead their sisters to valuable resources. In L. niger, this behaviour is very easy to observe and quantify (see for yourself!). The stronger the pheromone trail, the more likely ants are to follow it. This has recently led me to the realisation that pheromone laying can be used as a ‘window into the mind of an ant’. Since it is in the ants’ interest to accurately signal the quality of a resource to her sisters, she should lay more pheromone to resources she considers more valuable. Thus, we can use this behaviour to see how much an ant values something – a food source, for example. I founded the Animal Comparative Economics lab three years ago in order to explore how invertebrates perceive value, and what can cause things to seem more or less valuable to them. Our work has led us into into comparative and consumer psychology, behavioural economics, information use strategies, and decision-making under risk and uncertainty. In this I have been generously supported by the DFGs Emmy Noether funding programme.
Lastly, I should note that while I do love ants, I am also happy to work with any other model organism, as long as it can take us where we want to go.