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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.
Resource Development and Management
Field of research codes
Animal Behaviour (060801): Behavioural Ecology (060201): Biological Sciences (060000): Ecology (060200): Zoology (060800)
Ecology, Conservation, Biostatistics, Avian Biology
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