Stanley HeinzeResearcher, PhD, Associate Professor
Research areas and keywords
UKÄ subject classification
I am interested in how insect brains construct representations of the external world that enable these animals to successfully orient in their environment. These representations are built up by integrating visual information from the eyes (and possibly other sensory modalities) and extracting relevant features that allow to encode the body orientation of the animal with respect to the external world. The compass-like arrangement of this information in the brain might provide the neural basis for all directed behavior of insects. Which information is specifically used to achieve this, and in what form this representation is laid down in the neuroarchitecture of the brain, likely depends on the evolutionary history of a species, as well as its sensory environment and behavioral strategy.
To develop an understanding of these fundamental neural mechanisms underlying animal orientation, I perform intracellular recordings from individual neurons in the central brain of several insect species, as well as detailed neuroanatomical studies of these animals. To examine how fundamentally shared features of this system have been shaped by evolution to optimize each species’ performance in its particular environment, insects from different habitats around the world (e.g. Panamanian rainforest bees, Australian migratory moths) are used and compared. In particular, I work on the nocturnal bee Megalopta genalis, the diurnal bumblebee Bombus terrestris, the migratory Bogong moth (Agrotis infusa), and several other species of bees and ants, including the honeybee.
I conducted my PhD at the Philipps-University Marburg in Germany with Uwe Homberg, analyzing the processing of polarized light information in the brain of the desert locust. I then joined the University of Massachusetts Medical School (USA) as a postdoctoral fellow (with Steven Reppert) and worked on the neural basis of sun compass orientation of the migratory monarch butterfly. After joining the Lund Vision Group as a Marie-Curie postdoctoral fellow in December 2012 (with Eric Warrant), I started to set up my independent research group in 2015 as one of eight principle investigators of the Lund Vision Group. In my work I analyze how sensory information is transformed into behavioral decisions in insect brains across several species of moths and bees, focusing on a highly conserved brain region called the central complex.
Since January 2017, my work is funded by an ERC Starting grant, that aims at developing the insect central complex as a simple 'brain in the brain' model for complex brain function. This new work includes several new directions of research and novel methods, including connectomics work based on block-face electron microscopy (together with the Center for Microscopy and Microanalysis at the Queensland Brain Institute, Brisbane, Australia), computational modeling and robotics (together with B. Webb at the University of Edinburgh, UK), behavioral work, molecular studies on bee brains and electrophysiology on behaving bees and moths.