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Cognitive Neuroethology

Major Projects

Modelling the honey bee brain

Andrew Barron, Vincent Daria (Australian National University), James Marshall & Alex Cope (University of Sheffield)

Truly understanding how the brain operates is the grand challenge of 21st century neuroscience, but our understanding of the brain is limited because the human brain is so big and complex.   Meaningful Progress towards understanding brain function can be made through studying small brained animals, like the honey bee. The objective here is to use a combination of experimentation and mathematical and computational modelling to create a functional computer model of decision making in the bee brain. Analysing the model will be a rigorous test of whether we understand the operation of the animal brain, and can simulate it.  This will reveal how neural circuits make complex decisions.

It will establish and proof-of-concept studies needed to simulate larger and more complex brains. It will create biologically inspired computational solutions to complex classification and recognition problems, which could see widespread industrial application in fields as diverse as genomics and face recognition, and yield new approaches to machine learning. 

This project is alligned with The University of Sheffield's Green Brain Project.

PhD scholarships are currently available for international or Australian domestic students interested in joining this project.

Read about this project - article in The Conversation on building a Bionic Brain.  

Read about this project - article in the New York Times on insect consciousness.



Supported by an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship Scholarship awarded to Andrew Barron


The neurobiology of navigation in ants

Jochen Zeil (Australian National University), Ken Cheng, Ajay Narendra, Rudiger Wehner (University of Zurich) & Andrew Barron

Navigation is one of the most crucial and most challenging problems animals face. Behavioural analyses have shown animals make use of a number of different mechanisms to navigate, but very little is known of how different forms of spatial information are processed and integrated by the brain. Here we tackle this by placing tethered ants in a virtual-reality simulation of their real environment such that we have precise control of visual navigation cues, and their brain can be studied as they solve the real-world challenge of finding home. From this we will learn how simple brains efficiently solve the navigation task, which will inform both cognitive biology and bio-inspired computation. We will assess how animals solve the fundamental task of navigating the real world and finding home. We will learn how ants with such tiny brains are such excellent navigators and how simple animal brains process and integrate complex spatial information.

PhD scholarships are currently available for international or Australian domestic students interested in joining this project.


Supported by an ARC Discovery Project Grant awarded to Jochen Zeil, Ken Cheng, Ajay Narendra, Rudiger Wehner and Andrew Barron.


Understanding colony collapse: a social analysis of honey bee colony failure

Andrew Barron, Steph Russell & William Meikle (United States Department of Agriculture)

Honey bee colonies are failing at unsustainable rates and the global honey bee population is in serious decline. The problem is multicausal: disease challenges, habitat destruction, pesticides and climate change are all stressing bee colonies, and new solutions to manage bees to withstand these stresses are urgently needed. The aim of this project is to understand the process of colony failure by determining how bees respond as individuals, groups and colonies to population stresses. We will use new sensor technologies to evaluate the effects of high levels of forager death (which may be caused by diseases, pesticides or adverse environmental conditions) on colony growth and development, and determine the behavioural and physiological consequences of this for individual bees. Using this knowledge we will identify effective strategies to reverse or prevent colony failure.

Click to read about our latest findings reported by ABC Online and The Sydney Morning Herald

PhD scholarships are currently available for international or Australian domestic students interested in joining this project.

Bee on flower

Supported by the Herman Slade Foundation and the United States Department of Agriculture


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