Professor Natalie Hempel de Ibarra
Associate Professor of Neuroethology


Research interests

  • Animal vision
  • Learning and memory
  • Active sensing
  • Sensory ecology / Neuroecology

Funding: BBSRC, Leverhulme Trust, NERC, UKIERI, Royal Society

Currently advertised PhD studentships: BBSRC SWBiosciences DTP, NERC GW4+ DTP


Research projects

Research in my group focusses on social insects, bees and ants, investigating how sensory information is processed and used in the context of foraging activities, spatial orientation and navigation.

We ask how bees learn complex sensory information that is available in their natural environment, such as colours, pattern and odours of flower displays, how they use sensory information to locate and choose individual flowers and flower patches. Our work also aims to provide evidence for pollinator-driven selection in the evolution of floral signals through understanding functions and mechanisms of perceptual processes in bees and other pollinators. Behavioural data are collected in both field and lab studies. Spectral data are obtained from photospectrometry and multi-spectral imaging of flower displays and modelled for the various visual systems of the signal receivers.

Our main model species are the European honeybees and Buff-tailed bumblebee. Recently we started new collaborations to investigate the behaviour and ecology of tropical bees in South India.

We also study the acquisition of sensory information during learning flights that bees perform when they depart from the nest. These flights have a very elaborate structure which allows them to actively select and obtain visual information for guidance during their return to the nest.


Video abstract / selected media coverage

"You're a bee. This is what it feels like." By J. Klein (NY Times) - Nicholls & Hempel de Ibarra (2017) Funct Ecol also covered by Science Daily, Phys.Org, The Sun, Sciences et Avenir

Navigation and spatial learning:  CBC (Canada) Documentary by B. Mohun (2013) - Birds do it, bees do it and yes, we do it too   Trailer:

Learning flights in bumblebees (Riabinina et al. 2014 J Exp Biol)  Video

Learning flights in male bumblebees (Robert et al. 2017 J Exp Biol)  - covered by                

ITV, Science Daily, Phys Org, Express

Temperature patterns in flowers (Harrap et al. 2017) - covered by Science Daily, Daily Mail

Magpies do not like shiny objects (Shephard et al. 2015) - covered by BBC News, Guardian, Telegraph, Süddeutsche Zeitung, The Times, Audubon Magazin, Washington Post, Tagesspiegel, Bild der Wissenschaft, Stern

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