Universität Bern


The smell of hunger: Norway rats provision social partners based on odour cues of need
K. Schneeberger & M. Taborsky



Sensory ecology and cognition in social decisions
Special feature edited by K. Schneeberger & M. Taborsky




SCIENCE ADVANCES Alternative male morphs solve sperm performance/longevity trade-off in opposite directions M. Taborsky, D. Schütz, O. Goffinet & G.S.van Doorn


Media release, University of Bern


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

PDF File
Nature research highlight
Current Biology dispatch

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

The Evolution of Proximate Mechanisms for Behavioural and Life History Decisions

Workshop, 11-14 August 2013, Arolla, Switzerland

Organizers: Barbara Taborsky and Sander van Doorn, Universities of Bern and Groningen

This is a workshop of the CUSO Doctoral Program in Ecology and Evolution (DPEE) and the SNF ProDoc program “Proximate and Ultimate causes of Cooperation”

Workshop topic

The distinction between proximate and ultimate research approaches in biology has been carved in stone for most of the past 50 years, and is clearly visible in the structure of most modern academic institutions. However, molecular techniques are increasingly opening up the black box of information processing and decision making in organisms. At the same time, molecular life scientists are becoming interested in applying evolutionary principles to explain patterns in their data. These integrative approaches have been proven highly fruitful in the recent past and gave rise, for instance, to the successful emergence of entirely novel disciplines including evo-devo and eco-devo.

For this workshop we have invited leading researchers whose work transcends the boundary between mechanistic and functional approaches. By bringing together this group of invited speakers, our workshop aims to facilitate the exchange of ideas between empiricists and theoreticians working at the interface of mechanism and function, and to showcase leading examples of integrative research as a source of inspiration for young scientists. The workshop program will focus on the evolution of proximate mechanisms underlying behaviour and life-history decisions. In particular we will learn about and discuss (i) why proximate mechanisms have evolved the way they are built today, and (ii) how they shape adaptive evolution beyond their mere role as developmental or evolutionary constraints.

Workshop program

General schedule: August 11: arrival day; August 12 and 13: Scientific program; August 14: excursion to the mountains

The program of the workshop consists of a combination of plenary talks by the invited speakers and work performed in small groups, in which the participants will discuss a theme together with one of the invited speakers. The results of these small-group sessions will be presented to the other participants, followed by a plenary discussion.

Detailed Program (PDF)

Invited Speakers

There will be four discussion groups on the following topics:

1) Processes such as development and gene-regulation, that map the genotype to the phenotype are very complex. Yet, phenotypic evolution is often successfully described by the black-box ‘additive gene-action’ approach of quantitative genetics. How can these observations be reconciled? pdf1 pdf2 pdf3 pdf4 pdf5

2) Can we think of reasons why physiological mechanisms and decision rules have evolved the way they are? Do they reflect adaptations by themselves, are they side-effects of some architectural constraints, or evolutionary spandrels? pdf1 pdf2 pdf3 pdf4 pdf5

3) Do brain mechanisms affect the evolution of social behaviour, and if so, how? pdf1 pdf2

4) How can we account for mechanisms in models of trait evolution? pdf1 pdf2

Location and Venue

The symposium will be held in the Grand-Hôtel 'Kurhaus' in a breath-taking scenery amidst some of the finest mountain peaks of Switzerland. The venue is situated above the picturesque mountain village of Arolla, at 2100 m sea level at the core of the High Alps of the Valais. Enjoy the 360° mountain view panorama to be seen from the hotel (just with much less snow in summer!)


Access to Arolla and the Kurhaus: As can be seen from this website, the nearest railway station to Arolla is Sion. From Sion, a bus ("Postauto") goes to Arolla, with one exchange of buses at Les Hauderes (travel time by bus is 1:15 h). On the arrival day (Sunday, August 11, 2013) buses leave Sion at 8:00, 8:40, 12:50 and 17:10. On all other days buses from Sion go at 8:40, 10:35, 12:50, 14:10, 16:10, 17:10. You will find the schedules of all trains and buses within Switzerland at the SBB website [link to http://www.sbb.ch]


1 - 2 ECTS can be obtained, depending on the contribution of the participant. If you need a certificate (Zeugnis) for this symposium, please bring a certificate form from your University or print out the DPEE certificate of attendance [link to PDF], fill in your details and hand it over to us during the meeting. The evaluation will be based on your active participation in discussions and group presentations during the symposium.

Costs for participants and reimbursement

There is generally no registration fee. Only PhD students registered at the CUSO Doctoral Program in Ecology and Evolution (DPEE), researchers/teachers and people organizing the workshop are eligible for reimbursement of incurred travel expense by train (2nd class, half-fare ticket), accomodation and meals. Please see 'Instructions for reimbursement'

Expected Costs for Participants of non-CUSO Universities

Costs for participants from universities that are not member of the CUSO include travel costs and lodging at the Kurhaus. Participants can choose between different lodging options in the hotel. All prices include full board (i.e., all meals and coffee breaks, and wine and water during dinner), and they are calculated per night and per person. (1Euro= approx. 1.20 CHF)

- Dormitory bed: 90,- CHF (Overhead beds, take a sleeping bag)

- Bed in a shared double room, type 'Antan': 105,- CHF (washing basin; toilet and shower on same floor)
- Bed in a shared double room, type 'Arolle': 120,- CHF (with private bathroom)
- Bed in a shared double room, type 'Chamois': 135,- CHF (with private bathroom)
Single room usage of any of the double rooms elicits an additional fee of 10,- CHF per night


Online registration only

  • Please click on the icon "Registration" situated below the line "Detailed information about the course"
  • CUSO PhD students register through their MyCUSO account
  • External participants (non-CUSO PhD students, post-docs, etc...) register through the "non-CUSO student" account

Deadline for registration: 15 July 2013

Priority is given to PhD students of the DPEE until April 30, 2013. After this deadline, applications will be considered on a first-come-first-serve basis until the maximum number of participants is reached.


For more information, contact Barbara Taborsky (barbara.taborsky@iee.unibe.ch) or Sander van Doorn (g.s.van.doorn@rug.nl)


Gallery 1 photos by Patricia Castro Lopes

Gallery 2 photos by Valentina Balzarini

Gallery 3 photos by Hao Xu

Gallery 4 photos by Kathrin Garschall

Gallery 5 photos by Valentina Botto