In focus: free behavior in animals

The function of the brain is to coordinate and control animal behaviors. Establishing the link between the brain and behavior is known as ‘neuroethology’ and requires the combination of research studies focusing on different levels of detail - ranging from the dense anatomical reconstruction of neural circuits to the quantitative behavioral analysis of freely moving animals. The central goal of neuroethology is to understand how the collective activity of the vast numbers of interconnected neurons in the brain gives rise to the plethora of animal behaviors. A major current challenge in neuroscience is how to integrate findings at these disparate levels of scale so that the behaviors of an animal can be understood in terms of activity on the scale of neural circuits; for it is how an animal makes use of computations in the brain that is ultimately important, not how brain computations are performed in isolation.

What makes this an especially challenging problem is that the link between brain function and behavior can only be studied in a behaving animal, and studying the brain in action poses substantial technical challenges. By overcoming these technical hurdles, both experimental and computational, this approach allows us to address some of the big unanswered questions in neuroscience, such as how the brain maintains a dynamic model of the environment and makes decisions and how the brain enables complex social interactions.

Fundamental research within a large spectrum

caesar is a research institute dedicated to the neuroethological study of animals. The research groups and departments bring a collectively unique combination of experimental and computational approaches to bear on the question of how the brain controls behavior. Our research spans a large range of scales from the nano-scale imaging of the brain, to large-scale functional imaging of thousands of neurons in the brain, to the quantification of natural animal behavior. Our expertise drives the development of new technological contributions, both in experimental instrumentation as well as in computational modeling and data analysis methods. In addition to the technological breadth of the research groups departments at caesar, our neuroethological questions are comparative in nature and incorporate a diverse set of species allowing us to study the wide repertoire of behaviors across the animal kingdom.