Dr Luke Rendell

MASTS Reader in Biology

Harold Mitchell 308
tel. 01334 463499

"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  orcid.org/0000-0002-1121-9142  

I am a Reader 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
Michael Mcloughlin, Luca Lamoni, Ellen C. Garland, Simon Ingram, Alexis Kirke, Michael J. Noad, Luke Rendell, & Eduardo Miranda (2018) Using agent-based models to understand the role of individuals in the song evolution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) Music & Science https://doi.org/10.1177/2059204318757021

Male humpback whales produce hierarchically structured songs, primarily during the breeding season. These songs gradually change over the course of the breeding season, and are generally population specific. However, instances have been recorded of more rapid song changes where the song of a population can be replaced by the song of an adjacent population. The mechanisms that drive these changes are not currently understood, and difficulties in tracking individual whales over long migratory routes mean field studies to understand these mechanisms are not feasible. In order to help understand the mechanisms that drive these song changes, we built a spatially explicit agent-based model inspired by methods used in computer music research. Our model shows that shared feeding grounds where conspecifics are able to mix provide key opportunities for cultural transmission, and that production errors facilitated gradually changing songs. Our results point towards other learning biases being necessary in order for population song replacement to occur.

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". Listen to a podcast of a discussion between myself and author Phillip Hoare at the LSE Philosophy Forum here

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. Part of this work is my involvement in running the Balearics Sperm Whale Project and as a collaborator of the Dominica Sperm Whale Project.

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!

An approach to academic life: 12 guidelines for survival

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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Kendal, R, Boogert, N, Rendell, L, Laland, KN, Webster, M & Jones, P 2018, 'Social learning strategies: bridge-building between fields' Trends in Cognitive Sciences, vol In press. DOI: 10.1016/j.tics.2018.04.003
Bearzi, G, Kerem, D, Furey, NB, Pitman, RL, Rendell, LE & Reeves, RR 2018, 'Whale and dolphin behavioural responses to dead conspecifics' Zoology, vol In Press. DOI: 10.1016/j.zool.2018.05.003
Cañadas, A, Aguilar de Soto, N, Aissi, M, Arcangeli, A, Azzolin, M, B-Nagy, A, Bearzi, G, Campana, I, Chicote, C, Cotte, C, Crosti, R, David, L, Di Natale, A, Fortuna, C, Frantzis, A, Garcia, P, Gazo, M, Gutierrez-Xarxa, R, Holcer, D, Laran, S, Lauriano, G, Lewis, T, Moulins, A, Mussi, B, Notarbartolo di Sciara, G, Panigada, S, Pastor, X, Politi, E, Pulcini, M, Raga, JA, Rendell, L, Rosso, M, Tepsich, P, Tomás, J, Tringali, M & Roger, T 2018, 'The challenge of habitat modelling for threatened low density species using heterogeneous data: the case of Cuvier’s beaked whales in the Mediterranean' Ecological Indicators, vol 85, no. Supplement C, pp. 128-136. DOI: 10.1016/j.ecolind.2017.10.021
Jones, NAR & Rendell, LE 2018, Cultural Transmission. in J Vonk & T Shackleford (eds), Encyclopedia of Animal Cognition and Behavior. Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-47829-6_1885-1
Mcloughlin, M, Lamoni, L, Garland, EC, Ingram, S, Kirke, A, Noad, MJ, Rendell, L & Miranda, E 2018, 'Using agent-based models to understand the role of individuals in the song evolution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae)' Music & Science, vol 1. DOI: 10.1177/2059204318757021
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