• Honeybees (partly marked) on the edge of a brood frame
Chair of Behavioral Physiology & Sociobiology

Foster, James

Dr. James Foster

Zoology II / Pfeiffer lab
Universität Würzburg
Am Hubland
97074 Würzburg
Building: Beestation (B3)
Room: DG8
Link: Pfeiffer lab
Portrait of Dr. James Foster

My research focusses on how animals perceive and respond to polarized light, a property of light imperceptible to humans that nonetheless guides the behaviour of many animal species. To explore functions of polarization vision in animals, I have previously worked on differential conditioning in bumblebees, startle responses in coral reef fishes, and orientation behaviour in nocturnal dung beetles.

My current research uses the “waggle dances” of honeybees to investigate compass navigation. Honeybees were the first species shown to use a “polarization compass”, directing their foraging trips using patterns of polarization in the sky. To do this, they employ an internal map of the pattern of polarization across the sky.

I am interested in better understanding how the honeybee’s “sky map” trades off flexibility against generalisation, especially when faced with more challenging conditions, as clouds, haze and extremes of solar elevation distort the sky’s polarization pattern. To achieve this, I combine cutting edge methods for automated detection and decoding waggle dances with state-of-the art statistical modelling and novel methods for reproducing polarized light in the lab.

Each year between April and September with I run behavioural experiments with honeybees, and welcome applications for student assistant positions during this time.

  • Foster, J. J., Kirwan, J. D., el Jundi, B., Smolka, J., Khaldy, L., Baird, E., Byrne, M. J., Nilsson, D.-E., Johnsen, S., and Dacke, M. (2019) Orienting to polarized light at night - matching lunar skylight to performance in a nocturnal beetle, Journal of Experimental Biology 222, jeb188532.
  • Foster, J. J., Temple, S. E., How, M. J., Daly, I. M., Sharkey, C. R., Wilby, D., and Roberts, N. W. (2018) Polarisation vision: overcoming challenges of working with a property of light we barely see, The Science of Nature 105, 27.
  • Foster, J. J., Smolka, J., Nilsson, D.-E., and Dacke, M. (2018) How animals follow the stars, Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 285, 20172322.
  • el Jundi, B., Foster, J., Khaldy, L., Byrne, M., Dacke, M., and Baird, E. (2016) A Snapshot-Based Mechanism for Celestial Orientation, Current Biology 26, 1456–1462.
  • Foster, J., Sharkey, C., Gaworska, A., Roberts, N., Whitney, H., and Partridge, J. (2014) Bumblebees Learn Polarization Patterns, Current Biology 24, 1415–1420.