Picture of sperm whale calf courtesy of Amanda Cotton
Within-population behavioural variation can greatly affect the ecology of a species and evolutionary outcomes by affecting processes including competition, predation, survival, and selection. While genetics and the environment can play critical roles in creating behavioural variation, among highly social mammals much behaivoural variation can be due to social learning and culture. My research seeks to understand the origins of within-population behavioral variation and uses multiple approaches to study how individuality, social structure and cultural processes affect an individual’s behavioral phenotype.
The cetaceans, the whale and dolphins, are an important taxon for asking these questions as they operate over relatively larger spatial and temporal scales than do most other mammalian species; but also have the cognitive abilities and societies which rival their terrestrial counterparts in complexity; while also providing a dramatic contrast in ecology.
My research has primarily been focused on an innovative and integrative long term study of sperm whales. The Dominica Sperm Whale Project has risen to international excellence and integrates collaborators from at five top-tanking academic institutions. The sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) is one such nomadic species whose ranging patterns cover thousands of kilometers and which has a particularly interesting multileveled social structure, which may include the largest mammalian cooperative groups outside of humans.
My recent work has focused the link between multilevel societies and functionally diverse communication systems. I study social networks and use animal-borne tags to understand how these social relationships are mediated through communication to coordinate as a group, identify conspecifics and exchange information.
My previous research can be found in my Publications
Below I outline my Work In Progress