Monthly Archives: July 2013

PhD position (funded): Stress response and resilience in honey bees

Are you interested in helping understand the decline in honey bee populations and ready to move to France to start work in the beginning of 2014? Then this project might be for you.

See the whole ad for more information on the work to be done and the requirements to apply => These_AstrApis_INRA


Grey Bamboo Sharks in Space

No, not that kind of bamboo. Or shark. Or space for that matter.

No, not that kind of shark. Or space.

Last year, Schluessel and Bleckmann (2012) published an article about ‘Spatial learning and memory retention in the grey bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium griseum)’. Here is a recap.

Why study this topic

To build on previous research that had looked at animals’ ability to learn spatial information, such as escape routes or landmarks, and keep it for later use. Compared to other fish, invertebrates, birds and mammals, memory retention without reinforcement hadn’t been investigated much in elasmobranchs (sharks and stingrays), even though their ecology suggest that such a capability would be advantageous. Also, they apparently “hold a key phylogenetic position for understanding brain evolution in jawed vertebrates”.

What they did

Eight captive 3 month old grey bamboo sharks were periodically placed in a four arm maze (2 starting compartments + 2 food holders) accompanied by external landmarks. One of the starting compartments was alternatively sealed off so as to create a T maze in each session.

There were 3 experimental groups designed to train sharks to use different spatial strategies. The training period ended when a certain learning criterion was attained.

Strategy: making a specific turn (always left OR right)

Strategy: making a specific turn (always right OR left). The food’s goal position was modified according to the shark’s starting point.

Strategy: making a specific turn and/or using external landmarks

Strategy: making a specific turn and/or using external landmarks. The starting compartment and the food’s position was always the same.

Strategy: . The food's location was always the same, but the starting compartment was not.

Strategy: not making a specific turn, so maybe using external landmarks. The food’s location was always the same, but the starting compartment changed.

To measure memory retention, they first subjected the sharks to “training breaks” (basically, there was no contact with the maze and no reinforcement) of varying lengths, i.e., 1, 2, 5 or 6 weeks. When the sharks were put back in the maze, they recorded the number of sessions needed for them to reach the learning criterion again.

What they found

The sharks were able to use either spatial strategy to remember the location of the food. Besides, they seemed to retain spatial information for up to 6 weeks, without having to re-learn it when put back in the maze, and with no behavioural reinforcement. The authors make several additional observations that unfortunately could not be supported by statistical data, due both to a small sample size for each group and “temporal constraints and holding facility issues”.

Even so, I think this study can be regarded as preliminary evidence for memory retention abilities in grey bamboo sharks, especially since their data does seem to mimic what has been observed for other fishes.

As suggested in the article, future research should explore long-term memory in elasmobranchs with larger sample sizes, possibly by testing for the presence of a cognitive map. I encourage everyone to take a look at their paper directly, as it contains many more details about their methods and results.


Schluessel, V., & Bleckmann, H. (2012). Spatial learning and memory retention in the grey bamboo shark (Chiloscyllium griseum). Zoology, 115, 346-353. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2012.05.001

Postdoc opportunity: Neuroscience

Leiden University, The  Institute of Biology

The Institute of Biology (IBL) is part of the Faculty of Science. It is located in the Leiden Bioscience Park in the recently refurbished Sylvius building, providing state-of-the-art facilities for biological research. It collaborates with neighboring institutes including the Leiden University Medical Centre, the Naturalis Biodiversity Center, and institutes in the Faculty of Science. Research in the IBL ranges from the molecular to the population level and from mechanistic to evolutionary approaches. The Institute has a long tradition of excellence in fundamental research in a broad range of biological subjects. It fosters an international atmosphere with strong interactions among the various groups as well as with other departments within the Faculty of Science and other partners. The IBL contributes to the Faculty priority area ‘Bioscience: the Science Base of Health’. To further strengthen its profile in this area, the Institute invites applicants that can contribute to its Animal Sciences program. This program unites researchers working on animal behavior, developmental zoology, evo-devo, and molecular and cell biology. We are seeking a:

Postdoc in Neuroscience (38 hours per week)

Vacancy number: 13-209

Duties and responsibilities

We are looking for a:

  • ·         Researcher with excellent qualifications.
  • ·         We encourage applications from individuals who can link animal behaviour to processes at the neural, physiological or molecular level and who work on topics such as behavioural neuroscience, molecular neuroscience, neurogenomics, developmental neurobiology or stress related research.
  • ·          We have a clear preference for candidates with expertise that connects to, and supports, current research interests and model organisms within the IBL, in particular zebra fish or zebra finch with a comparative perspective.
  • ·         The successful candidate is expected to contribute to the IBL’s biology teaching program at BSc and MSc levels, in particular in the area of neurobiology and animal physiology.


  • ·         You are an enthusiastic candidate with a PhD degree and some years of experience at the postdoctoral level.
  • ·         Your research interest connects with one of the current research topics at our Institute.
  • ·         You are eager to join in research collaborations.
  • ·         Familiarity with the Dutch language is not required. We are committed to increase the number of female staff members within our organization and strongly encourage female candidates to apply.

We offer

We offer a three year contract. Appointment will be according to the terms of the Collective Labour Agreement of Dutch Universities (CAO Nederlandse Universiteiten), initially for the duration of one year. An extension of two years is possible after positive evaluation of capabilities and compatibility. The salary will be set, depending on education and work experience, between the gross minimum of 2427,- and gross maximum of 3831,- euros per month, based on full-time employment (salary scale: 10). In addition, Leiden University provides an annual holiday bonus of 8% and an end-of-year bonus of 8.3%.

Leiden University offers an attractive benefits package. All of our newly appointed staff members are being introduced to the Basic Teaching Qualification (BKO), which is an individually-tailored learning process to obtain teaching qualifications. If needed, BKO facilitates in (further) developing your teaching skills.


Prof. dr. Carel ten Cate (e-mail: – phone +31-71-527 5040

For more information about employment at Leiden University, visit:  Additionally, you can visit the websites of the Faculty of Science and IBL: and


Written applications using the vacancy number and including a brief description of research interests and experience, a full vitae, a list of publications, as well as the names and addresses of at least three persons who have agreed to be contacted for references, should be submitted before 15 August, via email, to: Mrs. S. Wijfjes-Chang:  

Slow-Motion Hummingbirds: Flight and Body Shakes!

Great talk with field biologist Phil Torres on Breaking Bio!