Prof Dianne Brunton staff profile picture

Contact details +64 (09) 414 0800  ext. 43615

Prof Dianne Brunton PhD, MSc, BSc

Head of Institute - Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences

Institute of Natural and Mathematical Sciences

My major research interest is in the field of evolution and ecology of animal communication. In particular, I identified the New Zealand Bellbird (Anthornis melanura) and the North Island saddleback (Philesturnus rufusater) as two species that are outstanding meta-populations for testing cultural evolution theory. My collaborative research on both species has proven to be productive and includes publications in top-ranked international journals: Ecology Letters IF=15.25, Evolution IF=5.659, Biological Journal of the Linnean Society (IF=2.3), and specialised top ranked journals: Behavioral Ecology( IF=3.38), Animal Behaviour (IF=3.4), Behavioural Ecology & Sociobiology (IF=2.73) Ethology (IF=1.95) and Journal of Ethology (IF=0.9), and Parasitology (IF=2.37). The significance of this work to wider biodiversity and conservation studies also underpins my research collaborations with researchers at UC Berkeley, Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, Australia National University and University of Melbourne.

In addition to my ongoing research on avian cultural evolution, I have published 100+ research publications in peer reviewed journals on other ecology and conservation focussed projects. I have been committed to publishing results with my PhD and MSc students. My philosophy has been to advance knowledge through research and to communicate my findings to all stakeholders. This communication has been achieved via partnership with professionals (FRST, MSI, DOC, Auckland Council research contracts), community groups (Supporters of Tiritiri Matangi, TOSSI, SOSSI and Motutapu Trust) and by my board and professional society memberships (Auckland Zoo, Council for the Australasian Society for the Study of Animal Behaviour, and Council for the Society for Reptiles and Amphibians of New Zealand.

Community conservation efforts are directly supported by my research group; we provide expertise, advice and quarantine facilities for reptile translocations in addition to inclusion of volunteers into our research when appropriate. Likewise, public outreach has been facilitated by regular talks by myself and my students to community groups, through TV and radio interviews and features on the internet.

On top of my research and postgraduate commitments I am involved in undergraduate teaching. I coordinate four courses each year (199.206 Fauna of New Zealand, 199.312 Behavioural Ecology, 232.701 Conservation Biology and 232.703 Wildlife Management), I also lecture in 196.205 Ecology and Conservation and coordinate up to five postgraduate diploma students in 700 level Special Topics papers each year. My teaching philosophy is strongly research based and I encourage undergraduate involvement in many of our ongoing research projects. 

My research contributions are in social behaviour and the evolution and ecology of animal communication. My main research interests include the evolution of song and I have investigated Saddleback dialects (a completed Marsden project), sexual selection in NZ bellbirds, foraging ecology of Little Penguins using stable isotopes, and the role of malarial diseases in the evolution and ecology of NZ’s fauna. An important current focus is the evolution of song in NZ bellbirds.  I also currently oversee a thriving Postgraduate research group at where I supervise many projects focussed on the ecology and evolutionary biology of NZ native species.

More about me...View less...


Contact details

  • Location: Building 5
    Campus: Albany


  • Doctorate - University of Michigan (1987)
  • Masters of Science - University of Auckland (1981)
  • Bachelor of Sciences - University of Auckland (1979)

Research Expertise

Research Interests



Conservation Biology


Avian Biology


Disease Ecology


Resource Development and Management

Area of Expertise

Field of research codes
Animal Behaviour (060801): Behavioural Ecology (060201): Biological Sciences (060000): Ecology (060200): Zoology (060800)


Ecology, Conservation, Biostatistics, Avian Biology

Research Projects

Summary of Research Projects

Position Current Completed
Project Leader 5 36
Team Member 0 3

Current Projects

Project Title: Untangling Genes and Culture: Sex-based Song Traditions in New Zealand Bellbirds

Date Range: 2014 - 2019

Funding Body: Royal Society of New Zealand

Project Team:

Supervision and Teaching

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

Position Current Completed
Supervisor 7 14
CoSupervisor 5 3

Current Doctoral Supervision

Supervisor of:

  • Akshya Ilangovan - PhD
    Assessing the role of the RMA in conservation: perceptions and outcomes.
  • Abigail Kuranchie - PhD
    Assessing the role of marginal and degraded habitats in species conservation
  • Mehrnaz Tavasoli - PhD
    Behavioural plasticity in common blackbird (Turdus merula): exploration, responses to novelty, and reproductive success
  • Jessica Patino Perez - PhD
    Personality and social networks in bottlenose dolphin at Great Barrier Island, New Zealand
  • Wesley Webb - PhD
    Cultural evolution of song diversity in New Zealand bellbird (Anthornis melanura)
  • Michelle Roper - PhD
    Song ontogeny of the New Zealand bellbird (Anthornis melanura).
  • Jennifer Laycock - PhD
    Disease risks to New Zealand native frogs: Anthropogenic dispersal of invasive litoria species

CoSupervisor of:

  • Alison Hunt - PhD
    The influence of personality and cognition on antagonistic interactions
  • Hemanta Kumar Yadav - PhD
    Population, structure, movement, nutritional ecology and interaction with predators (tiger and common leopard) and other sympatric ungulates (hog deer and spotted deer) of Swamp deer in Shuklaphanta Wildlife Reserve, Western Lowland, Nepal
  • Sam Hill - PhD
    Avian song complexity variation: functional and environmental influences
  • Marleen Baling - PhD
    Functional significance of highly variable colouration in the shore sink (Oligosoma smith)
  • Christophe Amiot - PhD
    Impact of human colonisation history on New Zealand Avian diversity

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Supervisor of:

  • 2016 - Virginia Moreno Puig - PhD
    Conservation of the critically endangered frog Telmatobufo bullocki in fragmented temperate forests of Chile
  • 2014 - Idan Shapira - PhD
    Behavioural Ecology of New Zealand Invasive Rodents (Rattus norvegicus and Mus musculus): Implications for Rodent Control
  • 2014 - Juergen Bertram Kolb - PhD
    Short Circuit Co-Evolution by the Perfect Parasites: Antifreeze Glycoproeins in Antarctic Fish Leeches (Hirudinea, Piscicolidae)
  • 2013 - Achyut Aryal - PhD
    Prey, predator, human and climate change interactions in the Himalayas, Nepal
  • 2012 - Anna Clarissa Gsell - PhD
    The Ecology and Anatomy of Scent in the Critically Endangered Kakapo (Strigops Habroptilus)
  • 2011 - Shauna Maureen Baillie - PhD
    Population Genetic Connectivity and Biogeography of the New Zealand Bellbird (Anthornis melanura) and their Avian Malaria Parasites
  • 2011 - Luis Ortiz Catedral - PhD
    Aspects of the biology of managed populations of two Cyanoramphus parakeet species in New Zealand: Breeding biology, pathogen screening and translocation
  • 2011 - Manuela Barry - PhD
    Shelter aggregations, social behaviour, and seasonal plasma corticosterone levels in captive and wild Duvaucel's geckos, Hoplodactylus duvaucelii
  • 2011 - Birgit Ziesemann - PhD
    Social organisation and mating system of a high-density brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) population
  • 2011 - Joanne Elizabeth Peace - PhD
    Comparision of tropic structures between human modified and native forest habitats
  • 2011 - Kevin Alan Parker - PhD
    The impacts of translocation on the cultural evolution of song in the North Island saddleback or tieke (Philesturnus rufusater)
  • 2010 - Mark Nicholas Hawdon Seabrook-Davison - PhD
    An evaluation of the conservation of New Zealand's threatened biodiversity: Management, species recovery and legislation
  • 2009 - Michael Gareth Anderson - PhD
    Evolutionary interactions of brood parasites and their hosts: Recognition, communication and breeding biology
  • 2008 - Karen Ann Stockin - PhD
    The New Zealand common dolphin (Delphinus sp.): Identity, ecology and conservation

CoSupervisor of:

  • 2017 - Daniel Adrian Godoy - PhD
    The ecology and conservation of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in New Zealand
  • 2015 - Sarah Jane Wells - PhD
    Evolutionary consequences and fitness correlates of extra-pair mating in the tui, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae
  • 2011 - Emmanuelle Valerie Martinez-Smagghe - PhD
    Responses of South Island Hector's dolphins (Celhalorhynchus hectori hectori) to vessel activity (including tourism operations) in Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

Media and Links

Other Links

Massey Contact Centre Mon - Fri 8:30am to 5:00pm 0800 MASSEY (+64 6 350 5701) TXT 5222 Web chat Staff Alumni News Māori @ Massey