University of St Andrews

Dr Luke Rendell
MASTS Lecturer in Biology

Harold Mitchell Building
University of St Andrews
St Andrews
KY16 9TH

"The true biologist deals with life, with teeming boisterous life, and learns something from it, learns that the first rule of life is living"
John Steinbeck, The Log from the Sea of Cortez

ResearcherID: G-2594-2010

I am a Lecturer in Biology supported by the Marine Alliance for Science and Technology Scotland (MASTS). I am affiliated with the Scottish Ocean Institute, Sea Mammal Research Unit, the Centre for Biological Diversity, the Centre for Social Learning and Cognitive Evolution, and the Institute of Behavioural and Neural Sciences.

I have broad research interests, largely centred around the evolution of learning, behaviour and communication, with a special focus on marine mammals.

Latest paper
Jones, EL, Rendell, LE, Pirotta, E & Long, JA 2016, 'Novel application of a quantitative spatial comparison tool to species distribution data' Ecological Indicators, vol 70, pp. 67-76, doi:10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.05.051
We show how the Structural Similarity (SSIM) index, a spatial comparison method adapted from techniques developed in computer science to determine the quality of image compression, can be used to extract additional information from spatial ecological data.

Our book, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins is even available at Amazon! Hear it discussed on BBC Radio 4's "Start the Week".

Current projects
Sperm whale society and ecology
I have been studying the ecology, communication and societies of sperm whales, the largest of the toothed whales, showing how long lasting social groups use distinctive vocal dialects that appear to be culturally transmitted.

Culture in whales and dolphins
In whales and dolphins we find examples of both complex communication and apparently widespread social learning, a simple form of culture. I am using statistical models to assess the evidence for social learning in wild cetaceans.

Evolutionary modelling
I also use evolutionary simulation models to understand how these processes like social learning might have evolved, and how they might be related to the evolution of other kinds of behaviour, such as cooperation and niche-construction.

Human social learning
I use experimental approaches to understand how we negotiate the trade-offs involved in deciding whether to use social information to make simple decisions, as a window into how we have evolved to make best use of our cultural inheritance.

East Coast Marine Mammal Acoustic Study (ECOMMAS)
We are deploying passive listening buoys along the Scottish coastline in collaboration with Marine Scotland Science to monitor the impact of coastal windfarm development and also to give insight into acoustic behaviour of marine mammals.

Science without borders!

Dr Charlotte Dunn finished her PhD "Insights into Blainville's Beaked Whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) communication" in January 2015

Dr Thomas Morgan completed his PhD, co-supervised with Kevin Laland and titled "Experimental studies of human social learning and its evolution" in December 2013

Dr Laurel Fogarty completed her PhD, co-supervised with Kevin Laland and titled "From social learning to culture: Mathematical and computational models of cultural evolution" in June 2012

Dr Ricardo Antunes completed his PhD, co-supervised with Phil Hammond and Jonathan Gordon, and titled "Variation in sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) coda vocalizations and social structure in the North Atlantic Ocean" in March 2009

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Jones, EL, Rendell, LE, Pirotta, E & Long, JA 2016, 'Novel application of a quantitative spatial comparison tool to species distribution data' Ecological Indicators, vol 70, pp. 67-76. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2016.05.051
Wang, Z-T, Au, WWL, Rendell, L, Wang, K-X, Wu, H-P, Wu, Y-P, Liu, J-C, Duan, G-Q, Cao, H-J & Wang, D 2016, 'Apparent source levels and active communication space of whistles of free-ranging Indo-Pacific humpback dolphins (Sousa chinensis) in the Pearl River Estuary and Beibu Gulf, China' PeerJ, vol 4, pp. 1-38. DOI: 10.7717/peerj.1695
Gero, S, Whitehead, H & Rendell, L 2016, 'Individual, unit and vocal clan level identity cues in sperm whale codas' Royal Society Open Science, vol 3, 150372. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.150372
Morgan, TJH, Uomini, NT, Rendell, LE, Chouinard-Thuly, L, Street, SE, Lewis, HM, Cross, CP, Evans, C, Kearney, R, de la Torre, I, Whiten, A & Laland, KN 2015, 'Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language' Nature Communications, vol 6, 6029. DOI: 10.1038/ncomms7029
Morgan, TJH, Cross, CP & Rendell, LE 2015, Nothing in Human Behavior Makes Sense Except in the Light of Culture: Shared Interests of Social Psychology and Cultural Evolution. in V Zeigler-Hill, LLM Welling & TK Shackelford (eds), Evolutionary Perspectives on Social Psychology. Springer, New York. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-12697-5
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