---> Dr. Tanja Schulz-Mirbach - Systematische Zoologie - LMU München
Systematische Zoologie



Dr. Tanja Schulz-Mirbach

Dr. Tanja Schulz-Mirbach

Associate Scientist


Fish Bioacoustics


Telefon: +49 89 21 80 - 2156

Research interests
My current research focuses on the functional morphology in the ear of teleost fishes with a main interest in the structure-function relationships between otolith morphology, sensory epithelia, ancillary auditory structures, and hearing abilities.
For my studies on fish hearing, I apply electrophysiological methods to evaluate auditory abilities in terms of the detectable frequency range and auditory sensitivities. From a methodological viewpoint, I am especially interested in applying imaging techniques such as electron microscopy and confocal microscopy (in combination with immunohistochemistry), micro-computed tomography, synchrotron radiation and neutron imaging, and 3D reconstructions based on X-ray imaging and serial histological sectioning.
As I am also working at the interface of biology and paleontology, I am involved in studies dealing with the evolution of otolith shape diversity in teleost fishes.

My research activities in functional morphology therefore aim to identify adaptations or specializations—where existent—which may help to interpret fossil otoliths from a physiological view point because otoliths are the only fossil remains of teleost ears.
In order to better understand the emergence of solid otoliths in teleost fishes contrasting the numerous tiny otoconia found in the ears of most other vertebrate groups and the evolution of otolith shape diversity, my current work concentrates on the characterization of the basics of otolith motion in-situ and factors like otolith mass and shape influencing this motion. These basic data are implemented in a recent cooperative project in advanced modelling of otolith motion in the fish ear. In addition, I am also involved in studies which aim to identify environmental factors and the amount of phenotypic plasticity influencing brain (region) size and shape in poeciliid fishes.



Date of birth: 04.06.1979
Nationality: German


Nov. 2003 – June 2008: Ph.D., Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences,
Palaeontology and Geobiology, LMU Munich

May 2002 – Jan. 2003: Diploma in Biology, LMU Munich

Nov. 1998 – June 2003: Studies of Biological Sciences, LMU Munich, with focus on Human
Genetics and Anthropology


Postdoctoral Research Associate
Jan. 2014 – present: LMU Munich, Department Biology II & Head of ‘Studienbüro,
Lehre@LMU’, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Aug. 2013 – Dec. 2013 LMU Munich, Department Biology II, Munich

Aug. 2011 – July 2013: University of Vienna, Department of Behavioural Biology

Nov. 2008 – July 2011: LMU Munich, Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

Research Assistant
Oct. 2007 – July 2008: LMU Munich, Department of Earth & Environmental Sciences


March 2019 – present: Project 20181651, Swiss Light Source, Villigen, Switzerland [99,044.80 €]
‘4D in situ visualization of sound-induced motion of hearing structures in zebrafish’

July – Dec. 2018: Project 31983, Münchener Universitätsgesellschaft e. V. [1,900.00 €]
‘Grundlagen der Otolithenbewegung im Fischohr: Der Einfluss von Otolithenform und -gewicht’

June 2018: Project 13837, Heinz Maier-Leibnitz Center, Garching, Germany [14,000.00 €]
‘Fish ear structure & Physiology’

July 2017 – present: Project 7 [2017-1], Bavaria California Technology [5,000.00 €]
in coop. with Petr Krysl, University of California (San Diego, CA)
‘Advanced modeling of complex otolith motion in the fish inner ear’

Sept. 2016 – Sept. 2018: Projects LS-2539 & LS-2752, ESRF, Grenoble, France [110,950.00 €]
‘Rocking earstones’ & ‘Fundamentals of fish hearing’

July 2014 – July 2015 Project 31741, Münchener Universitätsgesellschaft e. V. [2,356.00 €]
‘Charakterisierung der Innenohr- & Schwimmblasenentwicklung in frühen Stadien des Indischen Buntbarsches Etroplus maculatus’

Aug. 2011 – Dec. 2013: German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD); [38,448.00 €]
‘Structure-function relationship of inner ear and swim bladder morphology and hearing abilities in Asian and African cichlids (Perciformes, Cichlidae)’

Dec. 2009 – Nov. 2010: ‘Bayerische Gleichstellungsförderung’; [19,200.00 €]
‘Comparison of inner ear morphology between cave- and surface-dwelling populations of the Atlantic molly, Poecilia mexicana with special focus on sensory epithelia and otolith microstructure’

Dec. 2008 – Nov. 2009: University of Bavaria e. V.; [15,000.00 €]
‘Inner ear morphology and hearing abilities in cave and surface populations of the Atlantic molly, Poecilia mexicana’


Research Projects
Aug. 2011 – July 2013: Hearing abilities & swim bladder and inner ear morphology in cichlids
Prof. Dr. Friedrich Ladich’s Bioacoustics lab (University of Vienna)

Oct. 2008: Otolith morphology and behavior in species of the family Poeciliidae
Prof. Dr. Ingo Schlupp’s lab (University of Oklahoma)

Field Trips
Sept. 2008: South eastern Mexico: Behavioral studies on cave fish (Poecilia mexicana)

May 2004: South western Anatolia: Otolith morphology in Anatolian Aphanius species


Postdoctoral Fellowships
Aug. 2011 – Jan. 2014: German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

Dec. 2009 – Nov. 2010: ‘Bayerische Gleichstellungsförderung’

Dec. 2008 – Nov. 2009: University of Bavaria e. V.

Ph.D. Fellowships
Oct. 2007 – July 2011: Mentoring Program ‘LMU Excellent’

June 2006 – July 2007: ‘Hochschulwissenschafts-Programm-LMU‘

Nov. 2003 – March 2006: ‘Graduiertenförderung-LMU’


11.09.2019: ‘Why did solid otoliths evolve in the ears of modern bony fishes?’,
Invited talk – 23rd International Congress on Acoustics, Session Animal Bioacoustics
(9-13 September 2019) in Aachen, Germany.

16.04.2018: ‘Fish otoliths: Unravelling the secrets of shape diversity and function’,
Keynote – 6th International Otolith Symposium (15-20 April 2018) in Keelung, Taiwan.

28.01.2014: ‘Evolution und Vielfalt des Hörvermögens und entsprechender Hörstrukturen bei
Fischen’, Department of Ecology & Evolution, J. W. Goethe University.

21.10.2008: ‘Hearing in the dark: changed otolith morphology in a cave-dwelling form
of Poecilia mexicana’, Department of Zoology, University of Oklahoma.



  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Ladich F, Plath M & Heß M. Enigmatic ear stones: what we know about the functional role and evolution of fish otoliths. Biological Reviews 94:457-482. doi: 10.1111/brv.12463.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Olbinado M, Rack A, Mittone A, Bravin A, Melzer RR, Ladich F & Heß M. In-situ visualization of sound-induced otolith motion using hard X-ray phase contrast imaging. Scientific Reports 8:3121. doi: 10.1038/s41598-018-21367-0.


  • Schwarzhans W, Schulz-Mirbach T, Lombarte A & Tuset VM. 2017. The origination and rise of teleost otolith diversity during the Mesozoic. Research & Knowledge 3(1): 5-8. doi: 10.14456/randk.2017.2.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Eifert C, Riesch R, Farnworth MS, Zimmer C, Bierbach D, Klaus S, Tobler M, Streit B, Indy JR, Arias-Rodriguez L & Plath M. 2016. Toxic hydrogen shapes brain anatomy: a comparative study of sulphide-adapted ecotypes in the Poecilia mexicana complex. Journal of Zoology 300: 163-176. doi: 10.1111/jzo.12366.
  • Ladich F & Schulz-Mirbach T. 2016. Diversity in Fish Auditory Systems: One of the Riddles of Sensory Biology. Frontiers in Ecology and Evolution 4:28. doi: 10.3389/fevo.2016.00028.


  • Eifert C, Farnworth M, Schulz-Mirbach T, Riesch R, Bierbach D, Klaus S, Wurster A, Tobler M, Streit B, Indy JR, Arias-Rodriguez L & Plath M. 2014. Brain size variation in extremophile fish: local adaptation vs. phenotypic plasticity. Journal of Zoology 295(2): 143-153. doi: 10.1111/jzo.12190.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Ladich F, Plath M, Metscher BD & Heß M. 2014. Are accessory hearing structures linked to inner ear morphology? Insights from 3D orientation patterns of ciliary bundles in three cichlid species. Frontiers in Zoology 11:25. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-11-25.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Heß M & Metscher BD. 2013. Sensory epithelia of the fish inner ear in 3D: studied with high-resolution contrast enhanced microCT. Frontiers in Zoology 10:63. doi: 10.1186/1742-9994-10-63.
  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Heß M, Metscher BD & Ladich F. 2013. A unique swim bladder-inner ear connection in a teleost fish revealed by a combined high-resolution microCT and 3D histological study. BMC Biology 11:75. doi: 10.1186/1741-7007-11-75.
  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Götz A, Griesshaber E, Plath M & Schmahl WW. 2013. Texture and nano-scale internal microstructure of otoliths in the Atlantic molly, Poecilia mexicana: A high-resolution EBSD study. Micron 51: 60-69. doi: 10.1016/j.micron.2013.07.001.
  • Ladich F & Schulz-Mirbach T. 2013. Hearing in Cichlid Fishes under Noise Conditions. PLoS ONE 8(2):e57588. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0057588.
  • Gholami Z, Teimori A, Esmaeili HR, Schulz-Mirbach T & Reichenbacher B. 2013. Scale surface microstructure and scale size indices reflect intra- and interspecific variability in three endemic species of Aphanius (Cyprinodontidae, Teleostei) from Iran. Zootaxa 3619(4): 467-490. doi: 10.11646/zootaxa.3619.4.5.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T & Plath M. 2012. All good things come in threes — species delimitation through shape analysis of saccular, lagenar and utricular otoliths. Marine and Freshwater Research 63(10): 934-940. doi: 10.1071/mf12132.
  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Metscher BD & Ladich F. 2012. Relationship between swim bladder morphology and hearing abilities. – A case study on Asian and African cichlids. PLoS ONE 7(8):e42292. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0042292.
  • Teimori A, Schulz-Mirbach T, Esmaeili HR & Reichenbacher B. 2012. Geographic differentiation of morphological traits of fish and otolith: A case study of Aphanius dispar populations (Teleostei: Cyprinodontidae) from Southern Iran. Journal of Zoological Systematics and Evolutionary Research 50(4): 289-304. doi: 10.1111/j.1439-0469.2012.00667.x.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Heß M & Plath M. 2011. Inner ear morphology in the Atlantic Molly, Poecilia mexicana – First detailed microanatomical study of the inner ear of a cyprinodontiform species. PLoS ONE 6(11):e27734. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0027734.
  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Riesch R, García de León FJ & Plath M. 2011. Effects of extreme habitat conditions on otolith morphology – a case study on extremophile livebearing fishes (Poecilia mexicana, P. sulphuraria). Journal of Zoology 114: 321-334. doi: 10.1016/j.zool.2011.07.004.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Ladich F, Riesch R & Plath M. 2010. Otolith morphology and hearing abilities in cave- and surface-dwelling ecotypes of the Atlantic molly, Poecilia mexicana (Teleostei: Poeciliidae). Hearing Research 267: 137-148. doi: 10.1016/j.heares.2010.04.001.
  • Schneider S, Fürsich FT, Schulz-Mirbach T & Werner W. 2010. Ecophenotypic plasticity versus evolutionary trends – Morphological variability in Upper Jurassic bivalve shells from Portugal. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 55(4): 701-732. doi: 10.4202/app.2009.0062.


  • Reichenbacher B, Feulner G & Schulz-Mirbach T. 2009. Geographic variation in otolith morphology among freshwater populations of Aphanius dispar (Teleostei, Cyprinodontiformes) from the southeastern Arabian Peninsula. Journal of Morphology 270: 469-484. doi: 10.1002/jmor.10702.
  • Riesch R, Duwe V, Herrmann N, Padur L, Ramm A, Scharnweber K, Schulte M, Schulz-Mirbach T, Ziege M & Plath M. 2009. Variation along the shy – bold continuum in extremophile fishes (Poecilia mexicana, Poecilia sulphuraria). Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology 63: 1515-1526. doi: 10.1007/s00265-009-0780-z.
  • Tobler M, Riesch R, Tobler C, Schulz-Mirbach T & Plath M. 2009. Natural and sexual selection against immigrants maintains differentiation among micro-allopatric populations. Journal of Evolutionary Biology 22: 2298-2304. doi: 10.1111/j.1420-9101.2009.01844.x.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T & Reichenbacher B. 2008. Fossil Aphanius (Teleostei, Cyprinodontiformes) from southwestern Anatolia (Turkey): A contribution to the evolutionary history of a hotspot of freshwater biodiversity. Geodiversitas 30(3): 5-20.
  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Scherb H & Reichenbacher B. 2008. Are hybridization and polyploidization phenomena detectable in the fossil record? – A case study on otoliths of a natural hybrid, Poecilia formosa (Teleostei: Poeciliidae). Neues Jahrbuch für Geologie und Paläontologie, Abhandlungen 249(2): 223-238. doi: 10.1127/0077-7749/2008/0249-0223.
  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Stransky C, Schlickeisen J & Reichenbacher B. 2008. Differences in otolith morphologies between surface- and cave-dwelling populations of Poecilia mexicana (Teleostei, Poeciliidae) reflect adaptations to life in an extreme habitat. Evolutionary Ecology Research 10: 537-558.


  • Jost J, Kälin D, Schulz-Mirbach T & Reichenbacher B. 2007. Late Early Miocene lake deposits near Mauensee, central Switzerland: fish fauna (otoliths, teeth), accompanying biota and palaeoecology. Eclogae Geologicae Helveticae 99: 309-326. doi: 10.1007/s00015-006-1198-5.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T & Reichenbacher B. 2006. Reconstruction of Oligocene and Neogene freshwater fish faunas – an actualistic study on cypriniform otoliths. Acta Palaeontologica Polonica 51(2): 283-304.
  • Schulz-Mirbach T, Reichenbacher B, Yildirim MZ & Atalay MA. 2006. Otolith characteristics of species, subspecies, and populations of Aphanius Nardo, 1827 (Teleostei, Cyprinodontiformes) from Anatolia (Turkey). Journal of Natural History 40(27-28): 1687-1705. doi: 10.1080/00222930600964498.


  • Schulz-Mirbach T & Ladich F. 2016. Diversity of inner ears in fishes: Possible contribution towards hearing improvements and evolutionary considerations. In: Fish Hearing and Bioacoustics - An Anthology in Honour of Arthur N Popper and Richard R Fay. Edited by Sisneros JA. New York: Springer, 341-391.
  • Żuwała K, Kuciel M, Webb JF, Collin SP & Schulz-Mirbach T. Sensory Organs. In: Fish Histology. Edited by Kirschbaum F & Formicki K. To be published in CRC Academic Press (in press).