Within adult anomuran land crabs (Coenobitidae: Anomura) there are various degrees of terrestrialization, but all species have retained marine larval stages. The ability to recognize and discriminate chemical cues in the environment is essential for most animals, and thus a successful transition from sea to land calls for dramatically new demands on the chemosensory system, where stimulus changes from mainly water-soluble molecules to hydrophobic, volatile chemical cues carried by the air. Hence, these land crabs represent an excellent opportunity to investigate the effects of the transition from sea to land on the olfactory system. The olfactory organs of Coenobitidae show structural similarities with the insects, indicating an adaptation for function in air and both field and laboratory studies show that land crabs do make use of their olfactory system on land and seem to have quite sophisticated olfactory abilities for distant chemoreception. Also new neuroanatomical studies indicate that the coenobitids have superb olfactory processing and discrimination capacities. The main objective of this research project is to explore the seemingly extraordinary olfactory abilities of the Coenobitidae and to understand how they have evolved as adaptations to the terrestrial environment. In a highly interdisciplinary approach, behavioural investigations will be integrated with modern neurophysiological and optical imaging techniques, to identify which chemical substances induce biological activity and to study olfactory processing and discrimination capabilities. The project will generate new knowledge about how environmental and evolutionary forces dictate specific adaptations in olfactory systems, which will contribute to our general understanding of the olfactory sense. The high complementarity of the research training will strongly reinforce my scientific career by broadening my research perspective while at the same time adding cutting edge focus.
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