Communication and Cooperation
We currently investigate the role of vocal communication in the formation and maintenance of cooperative behaviour, and the communicative strategies animals use when making decisions about when and with whom to cooperate.
Cooperative societies: a model system
In Shark Bay, Western Australia, Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) form a fission–fusion society with strongly differentiated relationships, including nested male alliances. We use techniques such as acoustic localisation with hydrophone arrays and sound playback experiments combined with drone-mounted video capture to explore the role communication plays in the formation and maintenance of these cooperative male alliances. The nested structure of male alliance formation found in the Shark Bay dolphin population provides a unique opportunity to understand the interplay between vocal communication and cooperative strategies. Broad areas of research currently include:
Please visit the Shark Bay Dolphin Research webpage to find out more about our work in this area.
Dolphin cognition: research facility
We work closely with Dr Kelly Jaakkola and her team at the Dolphin Research Center in Florida, USA, on cognitive experiments, which are designed to investigate how dolphins coordinate cooperative behaviour. These experiments will not only help determine the vocal and behavioural strategies dolphins use when working together, but will inform a conceptual framework for understanding the cognitive processes animals use when solving problems cooperatively.
Acoustic Ecology and Animal Behaviour
We are interested in how acoustic ecology can shape animal behaviour and how changing soundscapes can impact communication strategies and animal-decision making. Current projects include:
Influence of acoustic ecology on animal mating systems
Social complexity is often viewed as the product of exclusively social processes. However, sociality demands close spatial proximity that permits detection. Detection range will be greatly affected by the presence of physical components in the habitat and thus, habitat configuration may be important in predicting patterns of social interactions. We are interested in how habitat configuration, particularly the acoustic properties of the environment, contributes to social complexity and mating success in bottlenose dolphins. We are using sound propagation and noise level measurements, along with recordings of bottlenose dolphin vocalisations and long-term data from an exceptional behavioural and demographic database spanning 35+ years, to investigate how acoustic habitat characteristics influence conspecific encounter rates, alliance group size, and female herding rates in bottlenose dolphins.
Effects of anthropogenic noise on animal behaviour
A fundamental issue of societal importance is the impact of human-induced disturbance on wildlife populations. Anthropogenic noise is an increasing problem in both marine and terrestrial environments, for a wide range of taxa, including cetaceans, fish, birds and invertebrates. With noise disturbance now known to impact upon animal communication, physiology, reproduction and development, it presents animals with a very real, and often novel, challenge. This is particularly true for cetaceans, which rely on sound for communication, navigation, and the location of prey, and exhibit some of the most specialised adaptations for sound perception and production. Previous studies have revealed on individuals may attempt to adapt to increased noise levels through acoustic and behavioural compensation, yet it remains unknown how noise impacts animals working together in groups. We conduct experiments investigating the effect of anthropogenic noise on communication, coordination and cooperative behaviour in cetaceans.