Outsmart the ants!
Dr. Tomer Czaczkes, a biologist and comparative psychologist at the University of Regensburg, Germany, will receive almost 1.5 million euros in research funding from the European Research Council (ERC) for his project COGNITIVE CONTROL, which uses an interdisciplinary research approach to bring comparative psychology and behavioral economics to nature conservation. The project opens up an exciting new field of research: cognitive control of invasive animals.
With the rise of global trade, plants and animals are being brought to areas in which they are not native. Such invasive species may then compete with native species for space and resources, and some invasive species can harm local ecosystems and causing major economic damage. A major example of this is invasive ants: they can be ecologically devastating and economically harmful, and most attempts at controlling them fail. They are especially difficult to control because colonies are protected in their underground nests, and by advanced protective behavior termed social immunity. The only viable way of attacking them is by convincing them to bring poison bait back to their nest. This is where Dr Tomer Czaczkes’ project comes into play: “The cognitive abilities of invasive ants are almost universally ignored but offer novel angles of attack”, says Tomer. Ignoring cognition has left a critical knowledge gap in invasive species control, a gap that the biologist and comparative psychologist wants to fill.
For his interdisciplinary research approach, Tomer Czaczkes will receive EU funding from April 2021 to March 2026. ERC grants are assigned to the person, and the scientist decided to carry out his research at the University of Regensburg for the five-year project period. COGNITIVE CONTROL – Revolutionizing invasive alien species control using behavioral economics and animal cognition aims to gain fundamental insights into how ants make decisions as a group and apply these to the increasingly global challenge of invasive animal control. The idea is to produce innovative insights into decision-making in invasive insects, such as the Argentine Ant, by using new conceptual frameworks, such as those of cognitive psychology and behavioral economics. Understanding how insect preferences can be manipulated could lead to a revolution in invasive species control worldwide and establish Europe as a major player in invasive ant control.
After studying and doing a doctorate at the Universities of Oxford and Sussex, Tomer Czaczkes worked at the Free University of Berlin from 2007 to 2008. From 2013 the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation promoted his research at the Faculty of Biology and Preclinical Medicine at the University of Regensburg. Since 2016 Czaczkes has headed an Emmy Noether junior research group, funded by the German Research Association (DFG) at the UR’s Institute of Zoology.
Please note: Press embargo until 12:00 CEST on 3 September 2020
Contact for scientific information:
Dr Tomer Joseph Czaczkes
Faculty of Biology and Preclinical Medicine
Institute of Zoology
University of Regensburg, Germany
Phone +49-176-344 27 597