Dr Luke Rendell

MASTS Reader in Biology

Harold Mitchell 308
tel. 01334 463499
fax.
ler4@st-andrews.ac.uk


"The true biologist deals with life, with teeming boisterous life, and learns something from it, learns that the first rule of life is living"
John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez


 

ResearcherID: G-2594-2010  orcid.org/0000-0002-1121-9142  

I am a Reader in Biology supported by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS). I am affiliated with the Scottish Ocean Institute, Sea Mammal Research Unit, the Centre for Biological Diversity, the Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, and the Institute of Behavioural and Neural Sciences.

I have broad research interests, largely centred around the evolution of learning, behaviour and communication, with a special focus on marine mammals.

Latest paper
Garland, EC, Rendell, LE, Lamoni, LU, 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. DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1621072114

The songs of humpback whales are one of the most striking examples of the transmission of a cultural trait and social learning in any nonhuman animal. To understand how songs are learned, we investigated rare cases of song hybridization, where parts of an existing song are spliced with a new one: song unit sequences were extracted from over 9,300 phrases recorded during two song revolutions across the South Pacific Ocean. The current and new songs were spliced together in two specific ways: (i) singers placed a single hybrid phrase, in which content from both songs were combined, between the two song types when transitioning from one to the other, and/or (ii) singers spliced complete themes from the revolutionary song into the current song. These snapshots of song change provide insights into the mechanisms underlying song learning in humpback whales, and comparative perspectives on the evolution of human language and culture.

Book
Our book, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is even available at Amazon! Hear it discussed on BBC Radio 4's "Start the Week". Listen to a podcast of a discussion between myself and author Phillip Hoare at the LSE Philosophy Forum here

Research
Sperm whale society and ecology
I have been studying the ecology, communication and societies of sperm whales, the largest of the toothed whales, showing how long lasting social groups use distinctive vocal dialects that appear to be culturally transmitted. Part of this work is my involvement in running the Balearics Sperm Whale Project and as a collaborator of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.

Culture in whales and dolphins
In whales and dolphins we find examples of both complex communication and apparently widespread social learning, a simple form of culture. I am using statistical models to assess the evidence for social learning in wild cetaceans.

Evolutionary modelling
I also use evolutionary simulation models to understand how these processes like social learning might have evolved, and how they might be related to the evolution of other kinds of behaviour, such as cooperation and niche-construction.

Human social learning
I use experimental approaches to understand how we negotiate the trade-offs involved in deciding whether to use social information to make simple decisions, as a window into how we have evolved to make best use of our cultural inheritance.

East Coast Marine Mammal Acoustic Study (ECOMMAS)
We are deploying passive listening buoys along the Scottish coastline in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science to monitor the impact of coastal windfarm development and also to give insight into acoustic behaviour of marine mammals.
 

Science without borders!

An approach to academic life: 12 guidelines for survival

Alumni
Dr Charlotte Dunn finished her PhD "Insights into Blainville's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) communication" in January 2015

Dr Thomas Morgan completed his PhD, co-supervised with Kevin Laland and titled "Experimental studies of human social learning and its evolution" in December 2013

Dr Laurel Fogarty completed her PhD, co-supervised with Kevin Laland and titled "From social learning to culture: Mathematical and computational models of cultural evolution" in June 2012

Dr Ricardo Antunes completed his PhD, co-supervised with Phil Hammond and Jonathan Gordon, and titled "Variation in sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) coda vocalizations and social structure in the North Atlantic Ocean" in March 2009


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Publications

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
Garland, EC, Rendell, LE, Lilley, M, 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.
Dunn, C, Tyack, PL, Miller, P & Rendell, LE 2017, 'Short first click intervals in echolocation trains of three species of deep diving odontocetes' Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol 141, no. 2, pp. 900-907. DOI: 10.1121/1.4976084
Dunn, C, Claridge, D, Durban, J, Shaffer, J, Moretti, D, Tyack, P & Rendell, L 2017, 'Insights into Blainville's beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) echolocation ontogeny from recordings of mother-calf pairs' Marine Mammal Science, vol 33, no. 1, pp. 356-364. DOI: 10.1111/mms.12351
Jones, EL, Rendell, LE, Pirotta, E & Long, JA 2016, 'Novel application of a quantitative spatial comparison tool to species distribution data' Ecological Indicators, vol 70, pp. 67-76. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.05.051
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