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Seasonal patterns in behaviour and physiology - circannual rhythms - hibernation

Based on long-term field studies, the emphasis of the current research programs is on interactions among hibernation, reproductive behaviour and physiology in facultative and obligate hibernators. Effects of reproductive effort and output on hibernation patterns are investigated in European ground squirrels (Spermophilus citellus) and Common hamsters (Cricetus cricetus). Critical developmental phases, the consistency of individual reproductive strategies and consequences of parental investment are related to over-winter behaviour and physiology.

In female European ground squirrels, we have documented non-reproductive follicular cycles during summer, including spontaneous ovulation followed by an active luteal phase. In an experimental approach, this unique phenomenon was demonstrated in breeding females after they had weaned their offspring, but also in non-breeding females, kept without access to males.  We presently investigate effects of the endocrine changes during these non-reproductive ovarian cycles on the course ad extent of pre-hibernation fattening.

Recently we have started to investigate relationships among reproductive performance, foraging behaviour, body-fat content and hibernation patterns in free-living Common hamsters in Vienna. Effects of body fat content and food hoards on hibernation patterns and the response of the hamsters to changes in the quality of caches food are analysed. This research program could provide further insight in the use or avoidance of hypothermia, potential consequences and its adjustment with available internal or external energy reserves.


Social behaviour – nutritional factors – development

Emerging Field "Social Systems"

A recently started research focus is represented by the Emerging Field "Social Systems" (Faculty of Life Sciences, heads Eva Millesi & Thomas Bugnyar). Researches from different departments and institutions within and outside the faculty aim to integrate their specific expertise to investigate aspects of social dynamics in animal and human societies. Behavioural, physiological and morphological traits in animal and human phenotypes are shaped by social interactions and dominance relationships. In addition, environmental factors can cause profound changes in social structure and individual life-history traits. Social factors can affect the individual, both during juvenile development and adulthood. The species studied range from eusocial insects to fish, birds, and mammals including non-human primates and humans. The innovative aspect of this research field is represented by a multi-factorial approach to investigate underlying mechanisms of key features in social systems. Recent research has revealed complex interactions between nutrition, stress response, and aggression. Diet composition during ontogeny seems to play a major role in neural development that may affect cognitive abilities, social status and predisposition for aggressive behaviour in adulthood.

Another research field is based on social relationships and stress management. We investigate effects of social bonds on basal adrenal activity in birds and mammals and mechanisms of reproductive suppression in canid and primate species.

Behavioural endocrinology

The investigation of endocrine factors is part of almost all research programmes in the department. Students are trained in endocrine analyses in practical courses or during their theses. In addition, hormone analyses for several institutions are carried out in our endocrine laboratory in the frame of research collaborations.

Department für Verhaltensbiologie
Universität Wien

Althanstrasse 14
1090 Wien
T: +43-1-4277-544 62
F: +43-1-4277-545 06
Universität Wien | Universitätsring 1 | 1010 Wien | T +43-1-4277-0
Letzte Änderung: 02.05.2011 - 16:12