Dr Ellen Garland

Dr Ellen Garland is a Royal Society University Research Fellow, in the School of Biology, University of St Andrews. Her 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.

Project Title: Cultural evolution and sexual selection in a complex song display

Why do animals sing? And what is more important, a ‘sexy’ song or a ‘sexy’ singer? In humans, you can sometimes tease apart the attraction for the boy from the boy-band or singer from his song. But, despite decades of research into sexual selection, this is not always so clear in non-human animals. Male humpback whales sing a long, complex and intricate vocal sexual display. Moreover, thousands of males can rapidly and synchronously change their population specific song to a new version in as little as two months, a feat which is unparalleled in any other animal except humans. Why does this happen? This project will investigate the impact of age and paternity success on song quality and variability, to understand whether it is ‘sexy’ songs or ‘sexy’ singers that drive song evolution events. Whales (cetaceans) represent a peak in complexity of both culture and vocal displays in the animal kingdom, independent of both birds and our own great ape lineage. This work will also provide new information to support the use of song data in humpback whale conservation.

Awarded: Research Incentive Grant

Field: Organismal Biology

University: University of St Andrews

Latest News