The Max Planck Institute for Ornithology (MPIO) was founded in 2004. The headquarter is located in Seewiesen in Upper Bavaria. The other part of the institute is located in Radolfzell at Lake Constance. The institute has three departments and several independent research groups that investigate different ornithological topics by using an interdisciplinary approach. Manfred Gahr and Bart Kempenaers conduct their research in Seewiesen. Martin Wikelski is director of the third department in Radolfzell (at Lake Constance) and also holds a professorship at the University of Konstanz. The MPIO has over 200 employees and maintains close cooperation with a number of international institutions with shared research interests.
Department of Behavioural Neurobiology
The research of the department of Behavioural Neurobiology focuses on the sexual differentiation of the brain, seeking to understand the mechanisms responsible for the development of sex-specific behaviours and sensory processing. In this context, we study the endocrine, molecular, and neurobiological mechanisms of innate and learned vocalizations of various bird species in a natural setting. Songbirds display a large variety of gender-specific singing behaviour, making them ideal models for studies investigating sex differences in behaviour.
Department of Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics
Who is the perfect partner and how do individuals find him or her? This question becomes relevant to every individual at some point in their lives, and is also the key to understanding many aspects of animal behaviour. The research of the department of Behavioural Ecology and Evolutionary Genetics focuses on the evolution of mate choice, parental care, and promiscuity in birds. We study why individuals differ in their mating behaviour and how this affects their reproductive success and survival.
Department of Migration and Immuno-Ecology
The Department of Migration and Immuno-ecology at Radolfzell Ornithological Station aims to understand why animals migrate, how they move from one place to another, and how they survive. To analyse global animal migrations, we equip individuals with state-of-the-art radio transmitters. Data from these transmitters are collected and stored in an online database accessible to researchers and the public across the globe. This research will provide new insights into how organisms cope with the effects of climate change, disease, and human alterations of their natural environment.
Promotion of young scientists
The promotion of young scientists is a top priority at the Max Planck Institute for Ornithology. Highly skilled young researchers are given the opportunity to conduct their own research as heads of Max Planck Research groups. These appointments span a limited number of years and are funded by the Max Planck Society or external sources. Currently there are six such research groups at the two locations of the MPIO.
The “International Max Planck Research School (IMPRS) for Organismal Biology” was established in 2009 and offers selected students from Germany and abroad the opportunity to work on their Ph.D. projects in a structured program that provides excellent research conditions. Interdisciplinary lectures and courses in organismal biology are provided in close collaboration with the Department of Biology at the Excellence University of Konstanz.
Wind Tunnel and MaxCine Center
A special feature of the institute in Seewiesen is the wind tunnel, where researchers have the opportunity to observe many hitherto inaccessible phenomena. For example, when birds cover thousands of kilometres during migration, how do they manage this without apparently sleeping or eating? What physiological changes occur in the bird’s bodies during these long flights? The researchers aim to find answers to these and other questions with the help of the wind tunnel, which is 20 meters long and can be made up to 8 meter wide. Natural flight conditions can be simulated in the tunnel by varying wind speeds, air pressure and temperatures, and via projections of landscape and sky.
In its interactive media room, the MaxCine Center for Communication in Radolfzell provides information through movies and live webcams about the various international research projects at the Vogelwarte Radolfzell. Insects and birds can be observed in nature on the “Bee Marie” meadow. Workshops for all age groups provide insight into the work of the scientists. Individually planned tours and continuously changing installations in different exhibition rooms provide a clear and comprehensive presentation of the research carried out at the institute.