The Jordan lab uses computational approaches to study animal behaviour in natural ecological and social contexts. We translate highly quantitative techniques developed for Drosophila and Zebrafish, including machine vision, automated tracking, and behavioural decomposition techniques, and employ these in more complex field environments like Lake Tanganyika and the Coral Reef. We seek to understand how social and collective interactions are modified by current context, how animals perceive and process social cues, and how environments – both social and physical – are changed as a consequence of animal behaviour. We take a broad approach, combining proximate neurobiological and genetic mechanisms of social behaviour with large-scale ecological outcomes of social influence and collective behaviour.

For details on our research, publications, and CVs, please have a look at our Max Planck Institute page


Field Sites

Lake Tanganyika

Our main field site is Lake Tanganyika, one of the Rift Lakes in central Africa. These lakes are exceptional sites for research into the evolution of social systems, effectively being replicate evolutionary experiments writ large (Lake Tanganyika is the 2nd largest lake in the world, containing 18% of the world’s freshwater). Although challenging to access, the Rift Lakes have been dubbed “Darwin’s Dreamponds” because they provide an unparalleled opportunity to understand evolutionary processes, and are one of the most valuable biological research resources on the planet. At Lake Tanganyika, our group studies how groups and collectives of social fish interact to overcome the most pressing ecological challenges – detecting and avoiding predators, searching for areas of food and shelter, and finding mates. With some very fancy technical approaches using machine vision and tracking, we conduct detailed studies of the behavioural and neural mechanisms that allow these animals to communicate and coordinate their behaviour, potentially harnessing emergent behaviours that exceed the abilities of single individuals.

Coral Reefs – The Red Sea, Great Barrier Reef, and Mediterranean

No proper tropical fish biology lab would be complete without some work on coral reefs. In the Red Sea and the Great Barrier Reef, we study how groups of damselfish form and interact, and what the consequences of differing group structure may be on ecological processes. In the Red Sea we work out of Eilat, with the Inter-University Institute, on the Barrier Reef have worked from One Tree Island Research Station, and we are currently starting a research program in the Mediterranean.

Rainforests in the Darien Gap

We study social spider behaviour in the rainforests of Panama and Colombia, having first visited to study Tungara frogs. The Darien Gap is a particularly rich biological resource, having been protected from logging and tourism by the conflict between FARC Guerillas and government forces for many years. With careful planning and a sense of adventure it is possible to explore these forests and work in some of the most remote and undisturbed areas of forest in the world.

Deserts in the Middle East

Our work on social spiders also takes us into the Negev desert, where temperatures regularly reach upwards of 40 degrees Celsius. Here we study how groups of spiders live together and resolve conflict over home site selection and hunting strategy.

Local sites – Lake Konstanz and the Rhein

Closer to home, we are always finding reasons to get into the water and study local fish species. The Bodensee is a wonderful spot to test out ideas and techniques, and also convenient for a drink in the numerous beer gardens after a day’s work.

Our Team

We’re a diverse bunch, from computer scientists to neurobiologists to out-and-out field biologists. Whatever our expertise, we are all fascinated by the evolution and mechanisms of animal behaviour, and go out of our way to observe our systems and species in their natural settings.

Backed up by the analytical might of the Department of Collective Behaviour at the Max Planck Institute, we aim for an integrative and highly-quantitative understanding of behaviour. For details on the specifics of our research projects and what each member is up to, please hop over to our page at

Alex Jordan


Alex is like the Ninja Turtle, Raphael, in the famous track “Turtle Power“.

Post-doctoral Fellows

Simon Gingins


Like all good Swiss, Simon endeavours to accelerate down hills as quickly as he can manage. Luckily his diving does not follow the same pattern, and he manages to stay within safe limits and get back to the surface to show us his fantastic photos.

Sofia Rodriguez-Brenes

Sofia is a field biologist, and one of the best around. She is also the only person I know to take an umbrella into the most dangerous rainforest in the world.

PhD Students

R. Ian Etheredge


Ian is a Renaissance man, combining insights and techniques from Da Vinci, Darwin, Turing, and Bob Ross to paint a picture of biological beauty like no other. He also sometimes (often) wears cowboy boots to the lab, so we’ve elected him a safety officer for setting such a good footwear example.

Etienne Lein

Etienne is mad for fish brains, like some kind of piscine zombie. He also loves social structure and interaction networks, and has many dear enemies. For some reason he has zero web presence, so on searching for him you instead find the second best Welsh footballer holding a chicken.

Mariana Rodriguez (affiliated member)

Mariana “Mad Dog” Rodriguez is a PhD student in the Hofmann Lab that was simply too good to leave behind in the badlands of Texas, so we bring her to the Alps to cool off when we can.

Shoyo Sato (affiliated member)


Shoyo decided to forgo a prestigious research institute like the Max Planck and has now ended up at a university no one has ever heard of… Harland I think, or perhaps Karvard? Anyway, he remains an affiliate lab member and studies the evolution of social behaviour in spiders.

Jian Zhao

Jian is like a Mother Gaia for fish, wanting to ensure all are fed and nurtured in the best possible way. By using robots. And laser beams.

Masters Students

Sylvia Garza


Sylvia joined the lab all the way back in 2013, when the Texas sun had to be fought off with strong Tequila. Now we’ve come all the way to Konstanz, where the German cold has to be fought off with strong Schnapps. So, not much has changed.

Jakob Guebel


Jakob works in the Middle-Eastern desert in the summer, where it’s 45 degrees Celsius in the shade. He goes there to study spiders, but come on, there are spiders on the trees outside my office, and we have beer in the fridge. It also seems he cannot swim.

Fritz Francisco

Fritz  got too drunk at a pirate metal gig one night, and we found him the next morning in our labs attempting to finish his set with a guitar crudely constructed from old nets and a drum kit of empty food containers. It actually sounded pretty good so we kept him.

Paul Nuehrenberg

Paul only joined the lab because of my martial arts background, so I oblige by randomly attacking him in the hallways, typically with Wu-Tang samples. The photo is not of him, but rather a google image search result of what he will no doubt look like upon graduation.


Melanie Wickert


Melanie is like some nosey neighbour always listening in to family feuds. She is prying into the social lives of group-living cichlids to find out who is dating whom. One would think she would have enough going on to leave them to their privacy but apparently not.



Jacqueline Dettinger


Paradoxically, Jacqueline is simultaneously our most junior and most senior member, being one of the first people to join the lab when we started in Konstanz. She puts fish in dark rooms and watches their every move with infra-red cameras. Creepy.


Ivo Neufert


Ivo loves Shakira and was in the front row of her concert as a younger man. He plays with conditional mating strategies. Enough said.

Kai Schleifer

What can I say. Times are tough and children are cheaper to employ than adults. Also Kai has a sweet blue/red eye dichromatism, which scares the hell out of other kids and may explain why he hangs around the spider lab so much.


November 2017

Great projects from our Masters Advanced Course students – Collective Animal Behaviour

September 2017

Field work in Tanganyika!

July 2017

A lab trip up to Bern for a hike with the Taborsky Lab

May 2017

Ian and Etienne give their thesis proposals at a nice spot in the forest at Ruine Castell, followed by a BBQ and beers.






Alex Jordan
Principal Investigator
Department of Collective Behaviour
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology
University of Konstanz, Germany
Office – Z817
Phone – +49 7531 885161


Alex Jordan
Senior Research Fellow
Department of Integrative Biology
1 University Station C0990
University of Texas at Austin
Austin TX 78712
Office – Patterson 113
Phone – +1 512 475-6164