Profile

Dr Ellen Garland

Dr Ellen Garland
Royal Society University Research Fellow


Research Interests

My board research interests include animal culture, social learning, bioacoustics, and behavioural ecology. My main research focuses on cetaceans, and in particular the cultural transmission, vocal learning, and function of humpback whale song. I am also interested in vocal sequence analysis techniques, and using similarity in vocal displays to define population structures for conservation management.

University Research Fellowship

Sexy singing: Cultural evolution and sexual selection in a complex song display

The role of sexual selection in signal evolution is a major topic of evolutionary research, not least in vocal displays such as song. Are some songs attractive because of who sings them, or do they have inherent qualities that make them attractive when sung by anyone? Despite decades of research on sexual selection, this is not always clear. In humpback whales, only males sing, and thousands of males can rapidly replace their song by learning a new song in as little as two months, a feat unparalleled in the animal kingdom. Song presents an interplay between cultural evolution and sexual selection; however, we have little understanding of how the most complex vocal display in the animal kingdom is governed by these selective forces. This project seeks to explore the underlying selective forces interacting and governing various aspects of humpback whales song. These fundamental concepts are central to advancing our understanding of the evolution of complex communication in human and non-human animals, as cetaceans represent a unique example on the continuum of cultural complexity.

Previous postdoctoral fellowships:

Newton International Fellowship (University of St Andrews)

Culture in whales: transmission of a complex display

Animal culture and social learning is a ground-breaking 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. Research conducted during my Newton fellowship into song learning has revealed that humpback whales employ some of the same learning mechanisms as songbirds and humans when acquiring a new song, which we recently published in PNAS.

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

Geographic variation in the dialects of Alaskan Arctic beluga populations

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 allowed previously unresolved population movements throughout the Alaskan region to be traced using fine-scale differences in spatio-temporal peaks in calling, and highlighted the successful application of acoustical studies to improve our understanding of stock structure for management and conservation in a region undergoing rapid climate change.

source: symbiosis

Research Overview:

My main research focus includes the cultural transmission of vocal behaviours, vocal learning, and geographic variation in vocalisations. I am also interested in vocal sequence analysis and advancement of related techniques, humpback whale song, beluga vocalisations, and acoustically derived population structures. My current work is focused on investigateing social learning in animals through the cultural transmission of humpback whale songs. This will increase our understanding of the form and function of vocal signals and exchanges in cetaceans. Previous work conducted at the National Marine Mammal Lab (NMML, AFSC/NOAA) investigated the geographic variation in the dialects of Alaskan Arctic beluga populations. 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 highlights the successful application of acoustical studies to improve our understanding of stock structure for management and conservation in a region undergoing rapid change.

 

Recent publications


13  (of 13 published available) for ecg5 with keyword Song clear keyword filter. (source: University of St Andrews PURE)
Please click title of any item for full details.

2018 (21/11)
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences
vol.285 
(Article)
2018 (11)
Royal Society Open Science
vol.5 
(Article)
Culturally transmitted song exchange between humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the southeast Atlantic and southwest Indian Ocean basins
Melinda L Rekdahl, Ellen Clare Garland, Gabriella A Carvajal, Carissa D. King, Tim Collins, Yvette Razafindrakoto, Howard Rosenbaum 
Keywords: Song, Humpback whale, Population structure, Cultural transmission, Africa
2018
Music & Science
vol.1 
(Article)
Using agent-based models to understand the role of individuals in the song evolution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)
Michael Mcloughlin, Ellen Clare Garland, Simon Ingram, Alexis Kirke, Michael J Noad, Luke Edward Rendell, Eduardo Miranda 
Keywords: Agent-based model, Humpback whale, Song, Song evolution, Vocal learning
2017 (25/7)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
vol.114 pp.7822-7829
(Article)
2017 (31/7)
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
vol.142 pp.460-472
(Article)
The devil is in the detail
Ellen Clare Garland, Luke Edward Rendell, Matthew Lilley, M. Michael Poole, Jenny Allen, Michael J. Noad 
Keywords: Song, Sequence, Cultural evolution, Levenshtein distance, Humpback whale
2017 (10/10)
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
vol.142 pp.1943-1952
(Article)
2016 (31/8)
pp.274-280
(Conference contribution)
Adapting a computational multi agent model for humpback whale song research for use as a tool for algorithmic composition
Michael Mcloughlin, Simon Ingram, Luke Edward Rendell, Alexis Kirke, Ellen Clare Garland, Michael Noad, Eduardo Miranda 
2015 (6)
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
vol.137 pp.3042-3053
(Article)
Non-song social call bouts of migrating humpback whales
Melinda Rekdahl, Rebecca Dunlop, Anne Goldizen, Ellen Clare Garland, Nicoletta Biassoni, Patrick Miller, Michael Noad 
2015 (8)
Conservation Biology
vol.29 pp.1198-1207
(Article)
2013 (20/11)
PLoS One
vol.8 
(Article)
2011 (26/4)
Current Biology
vol.21 pp.687-691
(Article)
Dynamic horizontal cultural transmission of humpback whale song at the ocean basin scale
Ellen Clare Garland, Anne W. Goldizen, Melinda L. Rekdahl, Rochelle Constantine, Claire Garrigue, Nan Daeschler Hauser, M. Michael Poole, Jooke Robbins, Michael J. Noad 
Keywords: Megaptera-novaeangliae, Breeding grounds, Chimpanzees

Contact Details:

Dr Ellen Garland
Harold Mitchell Building
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 9TH
Fife
UK

tel: +44-7478-649964
fax:
room: 305
email: ecg5@st-andrews.ac.uk

Related:

research@st-andrews

Sea Mammal Research Unit
Centre for Social Learning & Cognitive Evolution
School of Biology
Centre for Biological Diversity
Scottish Oceans Institute

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