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

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Universität Bern


Reciprocal trading of different commodities in Norway rats. M.K. Schweinfurth & M. Taborsky

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Nature research highlight

PNAS - Divergence of developmental trajectories is triggered interactively by early social and ecological experience in a cooperative breeder. Fischer, Bohn, Oberhummer, Nyman & B. Taborsky
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commentary on Fischer et al

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

Dr. Manon Schweinfurth

“An understanding of the natural world and what's in it is a source of not only a great curiosity but great fulfillment.” David Attenborough


Email: manon.schweinfurth@iee.unibe.ch

Phone: +41 (0)31 631 9151

Homepage: personal website

Research Interests

I moved to Mainz (Germany) to study Biology with Psychology as minor. I did my Diploma thesis on cooperation among rats in the group of Michael Taborsky at the University of Bern (Switzerland). During my subsequent PhD position, I continued my research on rats trading help. Currently, I am a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of St Andrews (Scotland) in the lab of Josep Call. My research interests lie mainly in the field of animal behaviour, in particular in an understanding of the mechanisms of complex social life. Additionally, I have always been interested in applied issues like animal welfare.

Current Research Area

During my studies I was especially fascinated by the evolution of cooperative behaviours. Animals cooperate by benefiting others at on own costs. Indeed, on the first view cooperativeness seems to contradict Charles Darwin’s theory of evolution. While thinking about eusocial insects, Darwin stated: „…one special difficulty, which at first appeared to me fatal to the whole theory of evolution…“. However, Darwin also offered a solution to this problem when stating in “The origin of species” (1859) that the problem „…disappears, if one remembers that selection can also act on the family, not only on the individual…”. However, cooperation frequently takes place also between unrelated individuals. Possible explanations are far less studied. One mechanism that maintains cooperation is reciprocity. Here, an individual helps a partner because this partner previously helped the first.

In my PhD I studied mechanisms underlying reciprocal helping behaviour in undomesticated wild-type Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus). Rats live in big colonies and show a wide range of social behaviours such as food sharing, huddling or allogrooming. In this highly social species, previous lab studies have shown that the propensity of a rat to cooperate is dependent on its previous cooperative experience and they therefore trade help reciprocally. I investigate reciprocal exchanges of different services both in a two-player food exchange task and under more natural conditions. In addition, I am interested in a variety of other social factors influencing reciprocal trading, like social bonds, relatedness, hierarchy and memory.

Reciprocity appears to be widespread in animals, is not a specific to rats and of great importance to humans. It is thus surprising that there is only mixed evidence for reciprocal trading in our closest living relatives, the great apes. I will investigate this seemingly evolutionary gap as a postdoctoral SNF research fellow by studying chimpanzees in a sanctuary in Zambia.


Schweinfurth, M.K., Taborsky, M. (2017): The transfer of alternative tasks in reciprocal cooperation. Anim. Behav. 131:35-41 [pdf]

Schweinfurth, M. K., Stieger, B. Taborsky, M. (2017): Experimental evidence for reciprocity in allogrooming among wild-type Norway rats. Scientific Reports 7: 4010 [pdf]

Schweinfurth, M. K., Neuenschwander, J., Engqvist, L., Schneeberger, K., Rentsch, A. K., Gygax, M., Taborsky, M. (2017): Do female Norway rats form social bonds?. Behav. Ecol. Sociobiol. 71: 98 [pdf]

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2016) No evidence for audience effects in reciprocal cooperation of Norway rats Ethology 122: 513–521 [PDF]

Curriculum Vitae

Since 10/17
Postdoctoral research fellow (SNF): "Social factors mediating reciprocal cooperation in chimpanzees" (St Andrews, Scotland)
03/17 - 09/17
Postdoc: "The social life of rats" (Bern, Switzerland)
10/13 - 03/17
PhD thesis: "Whom to help, how and why? Reciprocal trading among Norway rats" (Bern, Switzerland) Supervisor: Prof. Michael Taborsky
09/12 - 06/13 Diploma thesis: “Proximate mechanisms of reciprocal cooperation in Norway rats” (Bern, Switzerland) Supervisor: Prof. Michael Taborsky
04/11 - 06/11 Field assistant: “Social factors and parasite burden in hand-raised greylag goslings” (Grünau, Austria)
04/08 - 06/13 Study of Biology at Johannes-Gutenberg University with a focus on Zoology, Ecology, Botany and Psychology (Mainz, Germany)

Contributions at Conferences


Schweinfurth, M.K. & Wascher, C. (2016)
          "The interplay of communication and cooperation"

          ECBB2016 (Vienna, Austria)


Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2017)
          "Kin selection and reciprocity mediate food donations In Norway rats"

         12th topical meeting of the Ethological Society (Bonn, Germany)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2017)
          "Kin selection and reciprocity - two alternative mechanisms underlying cooperation in Norway rats?"

         Biology17 (Bern, Switzerland)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2016)
          "Reciprocal trading among Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus)"

          Summer School "Minds of Animals" (Bern, Switzerland)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2016)
          "Reciprocal trading of different commodities in Norway rats"

          ISBE2016 (Exeter, England)

Schweinfurth, M.K., Gerber, N. & Taborsky, M. (2016)
          "The role of communication when Norway rats reciprocate help"

          ECBB2016 (Vienna, Austria)

Aeschbacher, J., Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2016)
          "The influence of gender on reciprocal cooperation in rats"

          European Student Conference on Behaviour & Cognition (St Andrews, Scotland)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2016)
          "Rats play tit-for-tat instead of integrating cooperative experiences over multiple interactions"

          11th topical meeting of the Ethological Society (Göttingen, Germany)

Stieger, B., Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2016)
          "Reciprocal allogrooming among Norway rats"

          Biology16 (Lausanne, Switzerland)

Schweinfurth, M.K., Stieger, B. & Taborsky, M. (2015)
          "Reciprocal trading of commodities in Norway rats"

          Behaviour2015 (Cairns, Australia)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2015)
          "Reciprocal cooperation in Norway rats (Rattus norvegicus)"

          Interdisciplinary summer school “Origins of human cooperation” (TĂĽbingen, Germany)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2015)
          "The transfer of alternative tasks in reciprocal cooperation"

          10th topical meeting of the Ethological Society (Hamburg, Germany)

Gerber, N., Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2015)
          "The odour of cooperation: Rats need olfactory cues to reciprocate help in an iterated Prisoner’s dilemma game"

          Biology15 (DĂĽbendorf, Switzerland)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2014)
          "Rats signal need and share intentions during reciprocal cooperation"

          ISBE2014 (New York, USA)

Gerber, N., Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2014)
          "Norway rats use olfactory cues to cooperate reciprocally in an iterated Prisoner’s dilemma game"

          ECBB2014 (Prague, Czech Republic)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2014)
          "Rats signal need during reciprocal cooperation"

          Biology Day (Bern, Switzerland)


Aeschbacher, J., Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2016)
          "Reciprocal trading, a question of sex?"

          Biology16 (Lausanne, Switzerland)

Schweinfurth, M.K. & Taborsky, M. (2014)
          "Is anybody watching?

          Biology14 (Geneva, Switzerland)