Prof Dianne Brunton staff profile picture

Contact details +6492136615

Prof Dianne Brunton

Head of School of Natural and Computational Sciences

School of Natural and Computational 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.

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Contact details

  • Location: Building 5
    Campus: Albany

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 8 43
Team Member 0 3

Completed 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:

Teaching and Supervision

Courses Coordinated

Summary of Doctoral Supervision

Position Current Completed
Main Supervisor 6 16
Co-supervisor 2 6

Current Doctoral Supervision

Main Supervisor of:

  • Akshya Ilangovan - Doctor of Philosophy
    Assessing the role of the RMA in conservation: perceptions and outcomes.
  • Abigail Kuranchie - Doctor of Philosophy
    Assessing the role of marginal and degraded habitats in species conservation
  • Mehmood Baryalai - Doctor of Philosophy
    A Platform for Practical Homomorphic Encryption in Neural Network Classification
  • Mehrnaz Tavasoli - Doctor of Philosophy
    Behavioural plasticity in common blackbird (Turdus merula): exploration, responses to novelty, and reproductive success
  • Jessica Patino Perez - Doctor of Philosophy
    Vocalisations and Social network in bottlenose dolphins in New Zealand
  • Jennifer Laycock - Doctor of Philosophy
    Disease risks to New Zealand native frogs: Anthropogenic dispersal of invasive litoria species

Co-supervisor of:

  • Enzo Rodriguez-Reyes - Doctor of Philosophy
    Spatial and behavioral ecology of two isolated populations of the Floreana Mockingbird: laying the basis for reintroduction
  • Hemanta Yadav - Doctor of Philosophy
    Predator-prey interactions in subtropical forest and ecology and conservation of swamp deer or barasingha (Rucervus duvaucelii duvaucelii)

Completed Doctoral Supervision

Main Supervisor of:

  • 2020 - Wesley Webb - Doctor of Philosophy
    New horizons for female birdsong: evolution, culture and analysis tools
  • 2018 - Michelle Roper - Doctor of Philosophy
    Sexual dimorphism of song and life history trade-offs in the New Zealand bellbird.
  • 2016 - Virginia Moreno Puig - Doctor of Philosophy
    Conservation of the critically endangered frog Telmatobufo bullocki in fragmented temperate forests of Chile
  • 2014 - Idan Shapira - Doctor of Philosophy
    Behavioural Ecology of New Zealand Invasive Rodents (Rattus norvegicus and Mus musculus): Implications for Rodent Control
  • 2014 - Juergen Kolb - Doctor of Philosophy
    Short Circuit Co-Evolution by the Perfect Parasites: Antifreeze Glycoproeins in Antarctic Fish Leeches (Hirudinea, Piscicolidae)
  • 2013 - Achyut Aryal - Doctor of Philosophy
    Prey, predator, human and climate change interactions in the Himalayas, Nepal
  • 2012 - Anna Gsell - Doctor of Philosophy
    The Ecology and Anatomy of Scent in the Critically Endangered Kakapo (Strigops Habroptilus)
  • 2011 - Shauna Maureen Baillie - Doctor of Philosophy
    Population Genetic Connectivity and Biogeography of the New Zealand Bellbird (Anthornis melanura) and their Avian Malaria Parasites
  • 2011 - Luis Ortiz Catedral - Doctor of Philosophy
    Aspects of the biology of managed populations of two Cyanoramphus parakeet species in New Zealand: Breeding biology, pathogen screening and translocation
  • 2011 - Manuela Barry - Doctor of Philosophy
    Shelter aggregations, social behaviour, and seasonal plasma corticosterone levels in captive and wild Duvaucel's geckos, Hoplodactylus duvaucelii
  • 2011 - Birgit Ziesemann - Doctor of Philosophy
    Social organisation and mating system of a high-density brown Kiwi (Apteryx mantelli) population
  • 2011 - Joanne Peace - Doctor of Philosophy
    Comparision of tropic structures between human modified and native forest habitats
  • 2011 - Kevin Parker - Doctor of Philosophy
    The impacts of translocation on the cultural evolution of song in the North Island saddleback or tieke (Philesturnus rufusater)
  • 2010 - Mark Seabrook-Davison - Doctor of Philosophy
    An evaluation of the conservation of New Zealand's threatened biodiversity: Management, species recovery and legislation
  • 2009 - Michael Anderson - Doctor of Philosophy
    Evolutionary interactions of brood parasites and their hosts: Recognition, communication and breeding biology
  • 2008 - Karen Stockin - Doctor of Philosophy
    The New Zealand common dolphin (Delphinus sp.): Identity, ecology and conservation

Co-supervisor of:

  • 2018 - Samuel Hill - Doctor of Philosophy
    Influences of environmental and biological factors on song complexity in songbirds
  • 2018 - Christophe Amiot - Doctor of Philosophy
    Impact of human colonisation history on New Zealand Avian diversity
  • 2017 - Marleen Baling - Doctor of Philosophy
    Functional significance of highly variable colouration in the shore sink (Oligosoma smith)
  • 2017 - Daniel Godoy - Doctor of Philosophy
    The ecology and conservation of green turtles (Chelonia mydas) in New Zealand
  • 2015 - Sarah Wells - Doctor of Philosophy
    Evolutionary consequences and fitness correlates of extra-pair mating in the tui, Prosthemadera novaeseelandiae
  • 2011 - Emmanuelle Martinez-Smagghe - Doctor of Philosophy
    Responses of South Island Hector's dolphins (Celhalorhynchus hectori hectori) to vessel activity (including tourism operations) in Akaroa Harbour, Banks Peninsula, New Zealand

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