Head of Division
Prof. Dr. Michael Taborsky

Institut für Ökologie und Evolution
Telefon: +41 31 631 91 11
Telefax: +41 31 631 91 41
E-Mail:   claudia.leiser@iee.unibe.ch

Ethologische Station Hasli
Wohlenstrasse 50a
CH-3032 Hinterkappelen

How to find us ...

Universität Bern


PNAS - Predation risk drives social complexity in cooperative breeders. Groenewoud, Frommen, Josi, Tanaka, Jungwirth & Taborsky
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The evolution of cooperation based on direct fitness benefits. Phil Trans theme issue compiled and edited by Taborsky M., Frommen JG & Riehl C. (2016)
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NATURE COMMUNICATIONS Kinship reduces alloparental care in cooperative cichlids where helpers pay-to-stay
Zoettl M., Heg D., Chervet N. & Taborsky M. (2013)
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Social competence: an evolutionary approach
Taborsky, B. & Oliveira, R.F.
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Larval helpers and age polyethism in ambrosia beetles
Biedermann P.H.W. & Taborsky M.
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Animal personality due to social niche specialisation
Bergmueller R. & Taborsky M.
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Environmental Change Enhances Cognitive Abilities in Fish
Kotrschal, A. & Taborsky, B.
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Extended phenotypes as signals
Franziska C. Schaedelin and Michael Taborsky
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On the Origin of Species by Natural and Sexual Selection
G. Sander van Doorn, Pim Edelaar, Franz J. Weissing
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Cambridge University Press
Alternative Reproductive Tactics: An Integrative

Oliveira R., Taborsky M. & Brockmann H.J.
more information

Prof. Dr. Barbara Taborsky


E-mail: barbara.taborsky@iee.unibe.ch

My group welcomes BSc, Master and PhD Students interested in the developmental plasticity of behaviour, its function and underlying mechanisms

Research Interests

Developmental effects on behaviour and life-history decisions

Early experience

The environmental conditions an individual experiences during early ontogeny may shape the life histories and behaviour of phenotypes irreversibly for the entire life time. Although the importance of early environment effects is increasingly acknowledged by the research fields as diverse as human medicine and evolutionary biology, we still do not know much about the possible adaptive value of these effects, nor do we understand the precise physiological and genomic mechanisms mediating early environment effects. Using the Lake Tanganyika cichlids Simochromis pleurospilus and Neolamprologus pulcher as model systems, we investigate how social and ecological components of the early environment influence later life social and ecological competences, life history strategies and fitness. We investigate, both empirically and theoretically, how environmental information obtained in different ontogenetic stages is integrated to produce an adapted phenotype. And finally, we aim to unravel which physiological, neurological and genomic mechanisms may be responsible for long-term effects on behaviour and life history decisions.

PI: Barbara Taborsky,
PhD: Mukta Watve, Diogo Antunes, Cecilia Wikström
Master: Lena Bohn, Maria Reyes
Previous collaborators: Cornelia Arnold, Stefan Fischer, Alexander Kotrschal, Francisca Segers, Ariane Stratmann, Sander van Doorn

Parental effects and epigenetic inheritance

Parents can contribute substantially to the early conditions experienced by offspring. Parents may benefit from using environmental cues to correctly forecast their offspring's environment during early development and to provision their young accordingly. We investigate how mothers of Lake Tanganyika cichlids adjust egg size, egg composition including nutrients and maternal RNA transcripts to perceived predation risk. In the cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher we aim to reveal how early life experience is transmitted across generations by behavioural and by epigenetic mechanisms.

PI: Barbara Taborsky
PhD: Diogo Antunes
Master: Sakshi Sharda
Previous collaborators:  Barbara Fischer, Francisca Segers, Ariane Stratmann

Quantitative genetics

Often the adaptive function of behavioural traits is much better understood than their potential to evolve. Using the helping propensity of juvenile, cooperatively breeding cichlids (Neolamprologus pulcher) as key trait of interest, we perform a large-scale breeding experiment to disentangle the effects of heritable genetic variation and environmental variation (e.g. (non)genetic maternal effects, social effects of interaction partners) on the expression of this behaviour. By empirically assessing the heritability, genotype-by-environment interactions, genetic correlation with other behaviours, as well as genomic reaction norms, this project constitutes a first step to gain a better understanding of the genetic architecture of helping behaviour and thus the mechanisms of social evolution.

PI: Barbara Taborsky
PhD: Claudia Kasper-Völkl
Master: Tanja Schreier

Parental care

Parental care behaviour is often subject to intrafamiliar conflicts on different levels. Parents have to trade own interest against the fitness of their offspring when investing in care, and if care is biparental males and females may negotiate their shares. In African mouthbrooding cichlid Simochromis pleurospilus, we investigate how caring females trade the time for own feeding against the time of protecting offspring in the mouth cavity in dependence of offspring predation risk. In the biparental mouthbrooding cichlid Eretmodus cyanostictus terms of male and female care are switched only once with females taking the first share. This leads to a highly asymmetric situation, where the male alone can decide how much both partners invest in parental care. In this exceptional brood care system we investigate how the timing of transferring the brood from females to males is influenced by female signalling, male alternative mating options and female and male body condition.

PI: Barbara Taborsky
Previous collaborators: Barbara Gerber, Christoph Grüter, Marc Steinegger, Roger Schürch

Mate choice

It is generally assumed that mating decisions result from the choice of male or female mating partners, but there may be ecological reasons why this does not apply. We study mating decisions in two cichlid species where mate choice is apparently absent. The monogamous, biparental cichlid Eretmodus cyanostictus forms strongly size-assorted pairs. In this species habitat preferences combined with size-based dominance in both sexes rather than mate choice lead to size assortment. In the cooperatively breeding cichlid Neolamprologus pulcher, natural mating and breeding opportunities are achieved by occupying breeding vacancies opening up when an adult breeder is predated upon. Experiments suggest that also in this species mate  choice is absent, but that these fish mate opportunistically with any available opposite sex conspecific.

PI: Barbara Taborsky
Master: Lena Bohn
Previous collaborators: Luzia Guyer, Patrik Demus

Curriculum Vitae

Since 2013 Associate Professor, University of Bern
Since 2007 Docent, University of Bern
2006-2009 Research Scholar, IIASA, Laxenburg, Austria
2002-2006 Part time researcher (Post-Doc), University of Bern
1995-2002 Post-Doc, KLIVV, Vienna, Austria
1988-1995 MSc and PhD student, University of Vienna, Austria

Selected Publications

Taborsky, B. (2017): Developmental Plasticity: Preparing for Life in a Complex World. Adv. Stud. Behav 49, in press

Taborsky, B. (2016) Opening the black box of developmental experiments: behavioural mechanisms underlying long-term effects of early social experience. Ethology 122:267–283

Hess, S., Fischer, S., Taborsky, B. (2016) Territorial aggression reduces vigilance but increases aggression towards predators in a cooperatively breeding fish. Anim. Behav. 113: 229-235

Groothuis, T.G.G., Taborsky, B. (2015) Introducing biological realism into the study of developmental plasticity in behaviour. Front. Zool. 12:S6

Taborsky, M., Taborsky, B. (2015) Evolution of genetic and physiological mechanisms of cooperative behaviour. Curr. Op.Behav. Sci. 6:132–138

Fischer, S., Bessert-Nettelbeck, M., Kotrschal, A & Taborsky, B. (2015): Rearing group size determines social competence and brain structure in a cooperatively breeding cichlid. Amer. Nat. 186:123–140

Fischer, S., Taborsky, B., Burlaud, R., Fernandez, A.A., Hess, S. & Oberhummer, E. (2014): Animated images as a tool to study visual communication - a case study in a cooperatively breeding cichlid. Behaviour, 151:1921-1942

Fischer S, Zöttl M, Groenewoud F & Taborsky B (2014): Group-size-dependent punishment of idle subordinates in a cooperative breeder where helpers pay to stay. Proc. Roy. Soc. B 281:20140184

Taborsky, B., Guyer, L. & Demus, P. (2014): ‘Prudent habitat choice’: a novel mechanism of size-assortative mating. J. Evol Biol. 27:1217-1228

Stratmann, A. & Taborsky, B. (2014): Antipredator defences of young are independently determined by genetic inheritance, maternal effects and own early experience in mouthbrooding cichlids. Funct. Ecol., 28:944-953

Kotrschal, A., Szidat, S. & Taborsky, B. (2014): Developmental plasticity of growth and digestive efficiency in dependence of early-life food availability. Funct. Ecol. 28: 878-885

Fischer, B., van Doorn, G. S., Dieckmann, U. & Taborsky, B. (2014): The evolution of age-dependent plasticity. Amer. Nat., 183:108-125

Taborsky, B. & Oliveria, R.F. (2013): Social competence vs responsiveness: similar but not same. A reply to Wolf and McNamara. Trends Ecol. Evol. 28:254-255

Taborsky B., Tschirren L., Meunier C. & Aubin-Horth N. (2013): Stable reprogramming of brain transcription profils by the early social environment in a cooperatively breeding fish. Proc. Roy. Soc. Lond. B 280:20122605

Taborsky B. & Oliveira R.F. (2012): Social competence: an evolutionary approach. Trends Ecol. Evol. 27:679-688

Taborsky B., Heino M. & Dieckmann U. (2012): Size-dependent mortality and competition interactively shape community diversity. Evolution 66-11:3524-3544

Segers F.H.I.D. & Taborsky B. (2012): Competition level determines compensatory growth abilities. Behav. Ecol. 23:665-671
Segers F.H.I.D.; Taborsky B. (2011) Juvenile exposure to predator cues induces a large egg size in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B, 282. doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1290

Segers F.H.I.D., Berishvili G.; Taborsky B. (2011) Egg size-dependent expression of growth hormone receptor accompanies compensatory growth in fish. Proceedings of the Royal Society B doi:10.1098/rspb.2011.1104.

Segers F.H.I.D.; Taborsky B. (2011) Egg size and food abundance interactively affect juvenile growth and behaviour. Functional Ecology 25: 166-176.

Kotrschal A., Heckel G. Bonfils D. & Taborsky B. (2011) Life-stage-specific environments in a ciclid fish: implications for inducible maternal effects. Evolutionary Ecology 26: 123-137. doi: 10.1007/s10682-011-9495-5

Fischer B., Dieckmann U. & Taborsky B. (2011) When to store energy in a stochastic environment. Evolution 65: 1221-1232.

Kotrschal, A.; Taborsky, B. (2010) Environmental change enhances cognitive abilities in fish. PLoS Biology, 8(4): e1000351. doi:10.1371/journal.pbio.1000351.

Arnold, C.; Taborsky, B. (2010) Social experience in early ontogeny has lasting effects on social skills in cooperatively breeding cichlids. Animal Behaviour 79: 621-630.

Fischer, B., Taborsky, B.; Dieckmann, U. (2009) Unexpected patterns of energy allocation in stochastic environments. American Naturalist 173: E108-120.

Taborsky, B., Guyer, L.; Taborsky, M. (2009) Size-assortative mating in the absence of mate choice. Animal Behaviour 77: 439-448.

Taborsky, B., Skubic, E.; Bruintjes, R. (2007) Mothers adjust egg size to helper number in a cooperatively breeding cichlid. Behavioural Ecology, 18: 652-657.

Steinegger, M.; Taborsky, B. (2007) Asymmetric sexual conflict over parental care in a biparental cichlid. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology, 61: 933-941.

Taborsky, B. (2006) Mothers determine offspring size in response to own filial growth conditions. Biology Letters, 2: 225-228.

Taborsky, B. (2006) The influence of past and present environments on adult life history decisions. Proceedings of the Royal Society, London, Series B 274: 741-750.

Complete list of publications (incl. links to PDFs)