Post Doc 



Coral reefs, especially the world famous Great Barrier Reef, are one of the most diverse and colourful habitats on our planet, and visual communication among marine organisms is one of the key factors driving the complexity of coral reef ecosystems.

Sara is currently a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Marshall Lab at the Queensland Brain Institute. In the course of her research career Sara studied different aspects in visual systems in invertebrates and vertebrates and has gained neurobiological and molecular expertise. In 2012, she completed her PhD on visual orientation and neuronal plasticity in desert ants at The University of Würzburg in Germany, and was awarded the University’s Biocenter Science Award. Sara then started as a Postdoctoral Research Fellow working on visual communication in freshwater cichlids and coral reef fish. She first held a position in the Salzburger Group at the University of Basel in Switzerland and was sponsored by a German (DAAD) and a Swiss (Forschungsfond Uni Basel) fellowship, in addition to several travel stipends to perform field work. In 2014, Sara was awarded the Endeavour Research Fellowship to work in the Marshall Lab, and is currently holding a DFG (German Research Foundation) Research Fellowship.


My research focus lies in animal communication and sensory processing. In particular, I am interested in vision, how animals perceive their environment, how evolutionary forces shape sensory systems, and how flexible visual systems cope with varying visual needs arising from environmental, developmental or ecological changes.

During my PhD I was able to show that visual experience leads to behavioural as well as neuroanatomical changes in visual brain centres in desert ants that clearly demonstrates the highly plastic nature of the visual system.

In my current work I study the role of visual communication in species rich and colourful coral reef fish, including damselfishes. I aim to determine the role of ecology and phylogeny in shaping the diversity of fish visual systems. As vision is a complex process, I use a multidisciplinary approach that combines molecular (e.g. RNAseq) and neuroanatomical (e.g. in situ hybridisation combined with retinal mapping) methods, behavioural assays and visual modelling.


2000 BSc, The University of Bremen, GERMANY
MSc The University of Würzburg, GERMANY & The University of Hawai’i, USA
 PhD, Graduate School of Life Sciences – University of Würzburg, Germany

2001 -2002 Research Assistant,  The University of Würzburg, GERMANY
Research Assistant at ZMT, The University of Bremen, GERMANY
2012 -2014
Postdoctoral DAAD / Research Fund Research Fellow, The University of Basel, SWITZERLAND
Endeavour Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, AUSTRALIA
Postdoctoral Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, AUSTRALIA
DFG Research Fellow, The University of Queensland, AUSTRALIA






 Cortesi F, Musilová Z, Stieb SM, Hart NS, Siebeck UE, Malmstrøm M, Tørresen OK, Jentoft S, Cheney KL, Marshall NJ, et al (2015) Ancestral duplications and highly dynamic opsin gene evolution in percomorph fishes PNAS 112:1493–1498 Download Paper



Stieb SM, Kelber C, Wehner R, Rössler W.  “Antennal lobe organization in desert ants of the genus Cataglyphis” (2011) Brain, Behavior and Evolution 77 (3): 136-146   



Lammers MO, Stieb S, Au WWL, Mooney TA. 2006. The Journal of Acoustical Society of America 120 (5): 3013 (DOI 10.1121/1.4787054)