The COALEsCE Project: Communication's Role in the Evolution of Cooperation
"Humans and baboons have evolved by natural selection. If you look at the way natural selection works, it seems to follow that anything that has evolved by natural selection should be selfish. Therefore we must expect that when we go and look at the behaviour of baboons, humans, and all other living creatures, we shall find it to be selfish. If we find that our expectation is wrong, if we observe that human behaviour is truly altruistic, then we shall be faced with something puzzling, something that needs explaining."
Dawkins, R. (1976). The Selfish Gene. Oxford University Press.
Ideas on the evolutionary roots of cooperation have certainly developed since Dawkins first published the Selfish Gene in 1976, yet understanding cooperative behaviour remains a hot topic for evolutionary biologists. I currently investigate the role of vocal communication in the formation and maintenance of cooperative behaviour, and the communicative strategies animals use when making decisions of when and with whom to cooperate. My research encompasses two main areas:
Vocal Imitation in Bottlenose Dolphins
I obtained my PhD under the supervision of Prof Vincent Janik at the University of St Andrews, Scotland, UK. My doctoral research focused on the temporal and social aspects of vocal interactions in bottlenose dolphins and their use of individually distinctive signature whistles. I worked extensively with both captive and wild animals and used sound playback experiments to show that signature whistle copying in bottlenose dolphins facilitates the labelling and addressing of social companions. Much of my doctoral work involved logistically challenging field experiments and among the unique results I have been able to obtain are: