Lana Khaldy

Lana Khaldy

Doctoral Student

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I have always been fascinated by how things work. Not in a mechanical way per se, but more in a natural way. Why are some flowers red, and some yellow? How did the turtle get its shell, and the bird its feathers? How does the bumblebee know where to fly? To find the answers to all my questions about the world around us, the choice of profession was quite obvious –a biologist was the natural alternative. Working with dung, however, was maybe not. But my journey from a bachelor in Molecular Biology, here at Lund, to studying flight behavior in bumblebees, finally lead me to beetles, and their orientation behavior.

At a dung pile, one can find up to a hundred beetles, all wanting to have a juicy piece of dung to eat. Some of these beetles will feast just at the spot, some will take a piece of dung and dig down right under the pile, and some –the beetles I work with- will shape a piece into a ball and roll their meal away from the pile in a straight line. Smartly so, because by rolling in a straight line away from the pile you avoid competition, and risk of having your ball stolen from others.

It has been shown that beetles orient by using different compass cues in the sky. These can be the sun, which is the most prominent cue, the color gradient or the intensity gradient created over the sky. The beetles, like many other navigating insects, can also see, and orient with, what is called the polarization pattern seen across the sky. This pattern is created as a consequence of how the light from the sun hits different air molecules in the atmosphere, and is thus bent in different ways, creating a distinct pattern across the sky.

So how does this all relate to my project? Well, we have seen that beetles in the savannah, where the sky is open and visible, roll in a straight line away from the dung pile by using the compass cues in the sky, primarily the sun. This makes me wonder about beetles in other visual environments, for example beetles living in the rain forest, where the sun is rarely seen, but instead just the tree canopy is visible. The beetles living here share the same behavior as the beetles in the savannah. They also roll their balls in a straight line, but what compass cues do they use? Could it be that they use the polarization pattern of the sky as their primary cue instead of the sun? My project will aim to find out how biological compasses are adapted to different visual environments.

Understanding how organisms move through the world allows us to, not only, develop better models for visual orientation mechanisms, but also help us develop better navigating tools. Learning how things work is the best part of my job and understanding how animals navigate through the world will let me answers some of all of my questions, and at the same time raise even more questions. Questions that, as a PhD in biology, are my job to find answers to.

UKÄ subject classification

  • Zoology


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