Available Theses

1. Density and Personality

Looking for a thesis candidate for a longitudinal study on experimental rodent populations in large outdoor enclosures, on the function of animal personality in fluctuating populations of iteroparous animals.

Contact persons: Prof. Dr. Jana Eccard (eccarduni-potsdamde)

Density and personality


2. Cognition in small mammals

2a. Master Thesis - Innovation and problem-solving along the rural-urban gradient

Living in a human-altered world requires the ability to produce new behaviours or to apply novel solutions to old problems.  Here we want to develop experimental methods to test innovative behaviour directly on the field and investigate potential differences in innovative problem solving and foraging in small mammals along a rural-urban gradient.

Contact persons: Dr. Valeria Mazza (vamazzauni-potsdamde), Prof. Dr. Jana Eccard (eccarduni-potsdamde)

Innovation and problem-solving


2b. Master Thesis - Animal personality and spatial learning (Spring-Summer)

Spatial memory and learning enable animals to collect, retain and use spatial  information, to evaluate the relationship between objects and location. Here we investigate how inter-individual variation in spatial memory and learning is linked to animal personality, the consistent variation in behaviour between conspecifics.

Contact persons: Dr. Valeria Mazza (vamazzauni-potsdamde), Prof. Dr. Jana Eccard (eccarduni-potsdamde)

Personality and spatial learning


2c. Master thesis -Effects of ageing on learning abilities in small mammals

While individual differences in behaviour are defined as “consistent over time and across contexts”, cognitive abilities are subject to the effects of ageing. Previous studies have demonstrated how personality and cognitive strategies are linked, but not much is known about the effects of ageing on the cognitive abilities of different behavioural types in short-lived species. In this project, we aim at investigating the effects of ageing on learning speed and flexibility in small mammals.

Contact persons: Dr. Valeria Mazza (vamazzauni-potsdamde), Prof. Dr. Jana Eccard (eccarduni-potsdamde)

Learning and ageing


2d. Master thesis - Personality and cognitive strategies in small mammals

A recent hypothesis suggests that one predictor of individual variation in cognition is animal personality, and specifically that personality types are linked to cognitive strategies through a speed–accuracy trade-off. In this project we test specific predictions of this hypothesis, measuring individual differences in learning speed and flexibility of small mammals, along different personality traits.

Contact persons: Dr. Valeria Mazza (vamazzauni-potsdamde), Prof. Dr. Jana Eccard (eccarduni-potsdamde)

Cognitive strategies


3. Ecosystem services of voles – BioGeo

Biological station Gülpe (Havelland)

Are voles of any use? In this project we want to investigate the effect of vole burrows on the precipitation runoff, water retention, nutrient washout, etc. in the context of changing precipitation patters (heavy rain, floods). The project includes the analysis of already collected long-term data from experiments run at the station in Gülpe (Lysimeter experiment) as well as the conduction of own, short precipitation experiments.

Contact person: Prof. Dr. Jana  Eccard (eccard@uni-potsdam.de)

Ecosystem services of voles


4. Nesting without worrying: song bird conservation measures in Park Sanssouci

Invasive alien species (IAS) are one of the greatest threats to biodiversity and ecosystem functioning, even in urban and residential areas. Preliminary observations suggest that the little occupation of nest boxes in Park Sanssouci (Potsdam) is to be ascribed to high rates of raccoon predation on eggs and nestlings. In this project, we aim to monitor local songbirds breeding in the nest boxes of Park Sanssouci, and to evaluate the efficacy of newly-established protective systems against nest predation by raccoons. The timing of the project is determined by the birds breeding season: preparations would start in February, field work would continue until ca. June 2022.

Contact person: Prof. Dr.  Jana  Eccard (eccard@uni-potsdam.de), Dr. Valeria Mazza (vmazzauni-potsdamde)

Nest boxes Park Sanssouci


5.  Interactions between a native and an invasive rodent species – activity patterns and personalities

In the last 100 years the central European bank vole is spreading in Ireland, reducing the populations of native wood mice. As a master thesis project activity patterns of the species occurring together and alone can be compared based on videos, as well as the behaviour of the rodents in spy boxes can be analyzed in relation to their personality.

Contact person: Prof. Dr.  Jana  Eccard (eccard@uni-potsdam.de)

Interaction between native and invasive species


6. Horse movement and space use on the trail paddock

The newest trend in horse keeping is to establish paddock trails instead of or attached to open grazing areas where horses can move around freely. The riding stable PSV Töplitz e.V. Reiterhof Leest has established a trail paddock on their land in 2013. The 500 m and approximately 12 m wide long trail offers the horses a lot of variety with different substrates, like sand, gravel, weed, several areas to rest in the shade and smaller obstacles, like tree stumps, along the way to explore.                                                     
With the use of GPS trackers we would like to evaluate the potential benefits of their trail paddock by analysing the movement and space use of horses on the trail.

Contact person: Prof. Dr.  Jana  Eccard (eccard@uni-potsdam.de)

Project trail paddock


7. Effectiveness of Agri-Environmental-Schemes to increase insect and plant diversity in German Agriculture

Insect population and diversity are suffering under a crucial decline due to intertwined drivers: Loss of habitat, intensification and simplification of agriculture, pesticide use, invasive species and light pollution. To counteract this decline especially in agriculture, Agri-Environmental-Schemes (AES) were established such as flower strips, hedges, set aside which shall function as shelter, offer floral resources and hibernation possibilities for various insect taxa. Recently, the established, short-living flower strips have been criticized to act as an “ecological trap”, hence, attract insects without long term benefits.

In the “Linde-Experiment”, we are investigating the effectiveness of the already established flower strips and compare them to an innovative design “Rolling Wildflower Block (RWB)” to increase insect diversity.

Contact person: Vera Kaunath (vera.kaunathuni-potsdamde)

Effectiveness of Agri-Environmental-Schemes


8. Mobile linkage between high diversity patches in homogeneous agricultural landscapes – The Linde Experiment

As a concept, many animals function as “mobile linkers” in ecosystems, connecting sites (“genetic linkers” among populations), transport changes among sites and ecosystems (“process linkers“ affecting other species, “nutritional linkers” transporting nutrients and matter) and thus affect biodiversity of these sites (Lundberg and Moberg 2003).

Meanwhile, biodiversity levels at the sites, and diversity differences among sites and matrix may feedback on the mobility of the linker. Further, a high biodiversity at a site may increase the ecosystem functions such as pollination, beauty, pest control… at a side, or to the benefit of the surrounding matrix. These are typical arguments for the establishment of wildflower strips in a species-poor agricultural matrix (e.g. Ganser et al. 2019, Eccard 2022), which on the other hand are increasingly criticized as ecological traps for less mobile species.  

In the Linde experiment, we can study these processes. We can monitor the biodiversity of mobile linkers themselves, their mobility within, among sites and into the matrix, and we may be able to study contributions of mobile linkers attracted to biodiverse wildflower areas to ecosystem function.

In cooperation with the BioMove project we have several projects available. Please see the complete project description (attached pdf) for details.

Contact persons: Prof. Dr.  Jana  Eccard (eccard@uni-potsdam.de), Vera Kaunath (vera.kaunathuni-potsdamde)



9. Rodent movement

Consistent intra-individual variation in behavior (i.e. animal personalities) has gained much attention in ecology and is increasingly being recognized to affect key aspects of animals’ lives and species persistence. This project aims to investigate intraspecific trait variation (ITV) in movement, specifically dispersal and the settlement in a new habitat, under various social contexts. ITV has been found among a wide range of animal behaviors ranging from movement and space use to parasite load, survival, and species coexistence. As animals with different behavioral types move around the landscape they experience different situations and react to environmental contexts in different ways. Dispersal decisions are thus influenced not only by the behavioral type of the individual but also by the environmental and social context, ranging from population density and resource availability to predation and parasite risk. The individual behavior and reactions, i.e. movement decisions, further affect the individual status regarding food and mating opportunities and subsequently affect fitness. Therefore, to answer our question we, additionally, aim to investigate how personality affects space use, microhabitat choice, parasite load and infection status, and reproductive output.

We offer three master theses within this project, for more details please see the complete project description below.

Rodent movement


10. Bachelor thesis - Social housing and welfare? Ask the voles

Ensuring adequate captive conditions is crucial to animal welfare as well as the collection of reliable behavioural data. Housing should incorporate as many aspects of a species’ natural features as possible, including social conditions. For many rodents, physiological and behavioural studies indicate that social isolation is detrimental, and that the company of others can be enriching and beneficial. When social systems are extremely flexible, however, informed decisions on social housing become more difficult. In this project we aim to investigate female bank voles’ responses to different types of social enrichment.

Contact persons: Dr. Valeria Mazza (vamazzauni-potsdamde), Prof. Dr. Jana Eccard (eccarduni-potsdamde)

Housing and welfare


11. Master thesis - Raccoons’ automated facial recognition

In this master project we aim to apply deep learning algorithms (e.g., DeepLabCut, YOLO) for a fully automated facial recognition system which will exploit raccoons’ unique facial markings, producing a non-invasive tool for individual-based studies. The project is suitable for Master and Teaching students in biology, natural sciences, informatics, computer vision, or related subjects.

Raccoons facial recognition