Dr Ellen Garland

Newton International Research Fellow

Harold Mitchell 
tel. +44-7478-649964

Research Interests

My board research interests included cultural transmission, vocal learning, geographic variation in vocalisations, bioacoustics, behavioural ecology, and cetacean ecology and acoustics. My current research is focused on the cultural transmission, vocal learning, and geographic variation in humpback whale song. I am also interested in vocal sequence analysis and advancement of related techniques, and using similarity in vocal displays to define population structures.


Culture in whales: transmission of a complex display

Newton International Fellowship

Animal culture and social learning is a ground breaking and highly debated area of research, with growing evidence of cultural processes in primates, cetaceans, and birds. Humpback whale songs are one of the most startling examples of transmission of a cultural trait and social learning in any non-human animal. Recent work has demonstrated a clear pattern of complete population-wide changes that were replicated in multiple populations over a vast geographic region. The level and rate of change is unparalleled in the animal kingdom; humpback whales are thus excellent models for studying cultural evolution processes in non-humans. This project drives my ongoing research into important new areas by investigating incomplete song revolutions where the song transmission pattern dissolves, and extremely rare instances of song hybridisation, to gain an understanding of the underlying mechanisms driving cultural change in this display. This work will contribute to our knowledge of conformity and plasticity in song learning, mechanisms of cultural transmission and cultural evolution, and the fundamental concepts underlying the selective forces driving the evolution of culture in higher organisms.


Geographic variation in the dialects of Alaskan Arctic beluga populations 

NRC Postdoctoral Fellowship (National Marine Mammal Lab, AFSC/NOAA)

Populations of beluga seasonally migrate to summering areas within the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The aim of this study was to identify population-specific differences in call characteristics or dialects among the three populations of beluga (eastern Beaufort Sea, eastern Chukchi Sea and Norton Sound) that migrate annually to the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, to provide baseline information for noise impact studies in the region. This work has allowed previously unresolved population movements throughout the Alaskan region to be traced using fine-scale differences in spatio-temporal peaks in calling. This work also highlights the successful application of acoustical studies to improve our understanding of stock structure for management and conservation in a region undergoing rapid change.





Garland, EC, Rendell, L, Lilley, MS, Poole, MM, Allen, J & Noad, MJ 2017, 'The devil is in the detail: quantifying vocal variation in a complex, multi-levelled, and rapidly evolving display' Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol 142, no. 1, pp. 460-472. DOI: 10.1121/1.4991320
Garland, EC, Rendell, L, Lamoni, L, Poole, MM & Noad, MJ 2017, 'Song hybridization events during revolutionary song change provide insights into cultural transmission in humpback whales' Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, vol Early Edition. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1621072114
Allen, JA, Murray, A, Noad, MJ, Dunlop, RA & Garland, EC 2017, 'Using self-organizing maps to classify humpback whale song units and quantify their similarity' Journal of the Acoustical Society of America.
Oña, J, Garland, EC & Denkinger, J 2017, 'Southeastern Pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and their breeding grounds : distribution and habitat preference of singers and social groups off the coast of Ecuador' Marine Mammal Science, vol 33, no. 1, pp. 219-235. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12365
Stafford, KM, Ferguson, MC, Hauser, DDW, Okkonen, SR, Berchok, CL, Citta, JJ, Clarke, JT, Garland, EC, Jones, J & Suydam, RS 2016, 'Beluga whales in the western Beaufort Sea: current state of knowledge on timing, distribution, habitat use and environmental drivers' Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography, vol In press. DOI: 10.1016/j.dsr2.2016.11.017
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