On 26th-28th August 2016 the Nencki Institute Hydrobiological Station in Mikołajki hosted the International Workshop „Biological roots of prosociality and rescue behaviour”.
The workshop „Biological roots of prosociality and rescue behaviour”was organized by the team of Laboratory of Ethology of the Nencki Institute (Ewa J. Godzińska, Julita Korczyńska, Anna Szczuka and Paweł J. Mazurkiewicz) as a meeting between Polish researchers and students involved in the research on biological roots of social behaviour and two eminent scientists: dr Karen L. Hollis (Mount Holyoke College, South Hadley, Massachusetts, USA), and dr Elise Nowbahari (University Paris 13, Villetaneuse, France). Dr Hollis and dr Nowbahari are well known worldwide above all as the authors of numerous important publications on ant rescue behaviour and several theoretical papers devoted to the analysis of causal factors underlying rescue behaviour and prosociality in animals. The participants of the workshop (in total 23 persons) also included researchers and students from the Nencki Institute and other scientific institutions in Warsaw, Cracow, Lublin and Białystok, and a well-known science journalist Wojciech Mikołuszko.
The workshop started on the afternoon of 26th August. The opening keynote lecture „Neuronal correlates of social emotions” was delivered by Professor Ewelina Knapska from the Laboratory of Neurobiology of Emotions of the Nencki Institute. The second keynote lecture entitled „Empathy and deception in insects and other nonhuman animals: intentions and algorithms” was delivered by dr Karen L. Hollis and dr Elise Nowbahari. The lectures were followed by the presentation of the film „Ant rescue behaviour” (scientific responsibility: Elise Nowbahari and Karen L. Hollis, technical assistant: Paul Devienne). During the evening the participants of the workshop had further opportunities to get acquainted with each other and to exchange ideas at the bonfire on the shore of Mikołajskie Lake.
On 27th August an introductory lecture „Why should we study ant rescue behaviour?”, delivered by Professor Ewa J. Godzińska from the Laboratory of Ethology of the Nencki Institute, was followed by ten short oral presentations delivered by researchers and students from the Jagiellonian University in Cracow (dr Karolina Kuszewska and Krzysztof Miler, M. Sc.), the Nencki Institute (dr Julita Korczyńska, dr Anna Szczuka, Beata Symonowicz, M. Sc., Paweł Mazurkiewicz, M. Sc., Stefan Hornostaj, M. Sc., Magdalena Cichoń and Katarzyna Kuraszkiewicz), and the University of Białystok (Tomasz Włodarczyk, M. Sc.). The rapid talks were devoted mainly to various aspects of ant rescue behaviour. However, dr Karolina Kuszewska presented additionally the results of her research on factors mediating the behavior of antlion larvae. In the afternoon the participants of the workshop participated in a field trip guided by Paweł J. Mazurkiewicz during which they visited the nature reserve Łuknajno Lake and had the opportunity to get acquainted with the local ant fauna. In the evening they gathered once more around a bonfire, to relax and to discuss.
During the last day of the workshop, 28th August, the attention of the participants was focused mostly on a session of short scientific films, the „Film Festival”. The opening film entitled „Emotional contagion and its influence on interpretation of novel objects” was presented by Karolina Rokosz from the Laboratory of Neurobiology of Emotions of the Nencki Institute. Subsequently, researchers from the Laboratory of Ethology of the Nencki Institute, Ewa J. Godzińska, Beata Symonowicz, Anna Szczuka, Stefan Hornostaj and Julita Korczyńska, presented further 38 short films created during the research on ant rescue behaviour carried out in that laboratory. A classical short film „Help!” on rescue behaviour displayed by workers of the ant species Formica cinerea in response to a conspecific ant attacked by an antlion larva (author: Professor Marek Kozłowski from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences WULS – SGGW) was also displayed and commented. During the workshop Beata Symonowicz also presented two posters devoted to various aspects of rescue behaviour of workers of the red wood ant Formica polyctena. At the end of the workshop each participant was invited to present his/her own concluding remarks.
A popular science paper by Wojciech Mikołuszko presenting the main controversy discussed during the workshop - the role of empathy versus algorithms in the mediation of prosocial behaviour of animals – will appear briefly in one of the main Polish journals, “Gazeta Wyborcza”. More photos from the workshop will appear soon on the page of the Polish Ethological Society on Facebook.