My lab has broad interests in behavioural ecology, particularly acoustic communication and breeding biology in birds. We currently work on three broad themes:
(1) Alarm signals and interspecific eavesdropping
Many species give alarm calls, or similar signals, to warn others about predators, and such signals can include detailed information about the type of predator or degree of danger. Furthermore, many species eavesdrop on the information encoded in the alarm calls of other species, but little is know about the specific information used by eavesdroppers, or by what mechanism they recognize the alarm calls of other species. We test ideas about the information encoded in alarm calls and used by others of the same and different species by prompting alarm calls and carrying out playback experiments.
(2) Parent-offspring communication
Nestling birds face the dilemma that their calls for food may be overheard by predators. Parents might therefore be selected to give calls to warn nestlings about danger, but the parents also face a dilemma because their warning calls might themselves alert predators to the presence of young. We explore these and other parent-offspring interactions using audio recording, playback experiments and model presentations.
(3) Vocal mimicry
Many bird mimic the calls or songs of other species, but in most cases we do not know the function of such mimicry. In fact a recent review suggests that most mimicry is simply mistaken copying of other species sounds, as a non-adaptive side effect of the mechanism of learning conspecific songs. We have recently become interested in examining the acoustic accuracy, context and possible functions of mimicry. Field studies include superb lyrebirds, one of the world’s most celebrated mimics, and brown thornbills, perhaps the world’s least celebrated mimic!
I am currently Secretary of the International Society for Behavioral Ecology, an Editor for the Journal of Avian Biology, and on the Editorial Board of Bioacoustics and the Australian Journal of Zoology.