My research has established links between sensory physiology and learning psychology on the one hand, and evolutionary ecology on the other. Why do animals have the sensory systems they do? How do they use them in their natural foraging environment? How do cognitive-behavioural processes function in the economy of nature?
Pollinator-plant interactions have been used as a model system to study these questions. I have been particularly interested in mutual evolutionary and ecological influences of insect colour vision and flower colour signals, and insect learning and flower advertising.
In addition, I have studied bee navigation using large artificial landmarks, orientation of bees in complete darkness, as well as the question of how bees use spatial memory to navigate among several rewarded sites. Recently, I have also become interested in the evolution of cognitive capacities and communication, and the pollination biology of invasive plant species.
Bees have served as model organisms in most of these studies, because their colonies can be easily kept, their experience can be readily controlled, they have a rich behavioural repertoire and amazing learning capacities. My work has made use of field studies, as well as experimental studies with computer-controlled behavioural tests, computer simulations, and phylogenetic analyses (see publications).
Spatial orientation of bees: Using harmonic radar tracking of bees over large distances, we explore how bees explore their environment and its floral resources, to come up with effective spatial foraging strategies. This includes how they minimize travel distances between multiple memorised destinations and communicate about such locations with each other.
Social learning in bees: In recent years we have discovered unprecedented cognitive flexibility in bees, including simple tool use. We now explore how bees can learn such skills from each other, to explore simple cognitive processes by which such complex phenomena as cumulative culture might come about.
Insects as models of consciousness: Recent work shows that insects can foresee the outcomes of their own actions, are capable of metacognition (appreciation of their own knowledge), and have mental representations of space, time and number. This raises the possibility that insects might have a basic form of consciousness, which we explore in a variety of psychological paradigms.
The neural-computational underpinnings of complex cognition in small brains: The impressive behavioural repertoires and cognitive capacities in miniature brained-animals such as bees’ beg the obvious question of the neural implementations of such abilities. We explore these both with neurobiological tools as well as by building realistic neural circuit models of information processing in insect brains.