Dr Ellen Garland

Dr Ellen Garland
Royal Society University Research Fellow


Research Interests

My broad research interests include animal culture, social learning, bioacoustics, and behavioural ecology. My main research focuses on cetaceans, and in particular the cultural transmission, vocal learning, and function of humpback whale song. I am also interested in vocal sequence analysis techniques, and using similarity in vocal displays to define population structures for conservation management.

Current Projects

Sexy singing: Cultural evolution and sexual selection in a complex song display

The role of sexual selection in signal evolution is a major topic of evolutionary research, not least in vocal displays such as song. Are some songs attractive because of who sings them, or do they have inherent qualities that make them attractive when sung by anyone? Despite decades of research on sexual selection, this is not always clear. In humpback whales, only males sing, and thousands of males can rapidly replace their song by learning a new song in as little as two months, a feat unparalleled in the animal kingdom. Song presents an interplay between cultural evolution and sexual selection; however, we have little understanding of how the most complex vocal display in the animal kingdom is governed by these selective forces. This project seeks to explore the underlying selective forces interacting and governing various aspects of humpback whales song. These fundamental concepts are central to advancing our understanding of the evolution of complex communication in human and non-human animals, as cetaceans represent a unique example on the continuum of cultural complexity. Follow along with PhD students Franca Eichenberger, Sara Niksic and me as we investigate song function.

Central and eastern South Pacific song transmission

Male humpbacks sing an elaborate, hierarchically structured vocal display specific to their breeding population. Moreover, thousands of males can synchronously change their population-specific song to a new version introduced from a neighbouring population in as little as two months. This phenomenon, termed a ‘song revolution’, appears unparalleled in any other animal except humans. We have previously shown that songs pass repeatedly across the South Pacific, stepping between populations from east Australia in the west to French Polynesia in the east. Songs appear to originate from west Australia located in the Indian Ocean, representing a ~6,000 mile transmission. The vocal linkage between the Indian and South Pacific Ocean basins raises the question of how far a single song type can be transmitted. We are investigating whether song revolutions continue to spread into the eastern South Pacific.

Previous postdoctoral fellowships:

Newton International Fellowship (University of St Andrews)

Culture in whales: transmission of a complex display

Animal culture and social learning is a ground-breaking area of research, with growing evidence of cultural processes in primates, cetaceans, and birds. Humpback whale songs are one of the most startling examples of transmission of a cultural trait and social learning in any non-human animal. Recent work has demonstrated a clear pattern of complete population-wide changes that were replicated in multiple populations over a vast geographic region. The level and rate of change is unparalleled in the animal kingdom; humpback whales are thus excellent models for studying cultural evolution processes in non-humans. Research conducted during my Newton fellowship into song learning has revealed that humpback whales employ some of the same learning mechanisms as songbirds and humans when acquiring a new song, which we recently published in PNAS.

National Academy of Sciences (NRC) Postdoctoral Fellowship (Marine Mammal Lab, AFSC/NOAA)

Geographic variation in the dialects of Alaskan Arctic beluga populations

Populations of beluga seasonally migrate to summering areas within the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas. The aim of this study was to identify population-specific differences in call characteristics or dialects among the three populations of beluga (eastern Beaufort Sea, eastern Chukchi Sea and Norton Sound) that migrate annually to the Chukchi and Beaufort Seas, to provide baseline information for noise impact studies in the region. This work allowed previously unresolved population movements throughout the Alaskan region to be traced using fine-scale differences in spatio-temporal peaks in calling, and highlighted the successful application of acoustical studies to improve our understanding of stock structure for management and conservation in a region undergoing rapid climate change.

source: symbiosis


24 (of 24 /dk/atira/pure/researchoutput/status/published available) for ecg5. (source: University of St Andrews PURE)
Please click title of any item for full details

A giant’s dance Javier Oña, Esteban Duque, Ellen Clare Garland, Kerri Seger, Martin Narváez, Julia Maldonado, Judith Denkinger
Aquatic Mammals 2019 vol. 45 pp. 456-464
Animal cultures matter for conservation Philippa Brakes, Sasha R. X. Dall, Lucy M. Aplin, Stuart Bearhop, Emma Louise Carroll, Paolo Ciucci, Vicki Fishlock, John K. B. Ford, Ellen Clare Garland, Sally A. Keith, Peter K. McGregor, Sarah L. Mesnick, Michael J. Noad, Giuseppe Notarbartolo di Sciara, Martha M. Robbins, Mark P. Simmonds, Fernando Spina, Alex Thornton, Paul R. Wade, Martin J. Whiting, James Williams, Luke Edward Rendell, Hal Whitehead, Andrew Whiten, Christian Rutz
Science 2019 vol. 363 pp. 1032-1034
Migratory convergence facilitates cultural transmission of humpback whale song Clare Owen, Luke Edward Rendell, Rochelle Constantine, Michael J. Noad, Jenny Allen, Olive Andrews, Claire Garrigue, M. Michael Poole, David Donnelly, Nan Hauser, Ellen Clare Garland
Royal Society Open Science 2019 vol. 6
Network analysis reveals underlying syntactic features in a vocally learnt mammalian display, humpback whale song Jenny A. Allen, Ellen Clare Garland, Rebecca A. Dunlop, Michael J. Noad
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2019 vol. 286
Beluga whales in the western Beaufort Sea Kathleen M. Stafford, Megan C. Ferguson, Donna D. W. Hauser, Stephen R. Okkonen, Catherine L. Berchok, John J. Citta, Janet T. Clarke, Ellen Clare Garland, Joshua Jones, Robert S. Suydam
Deep Sea Research Part II: Topical Studies in Oceanography 2018 vol. 152 pp. 182-194
Cultural revolutions reduce complexity in the songs of humpback whales Jenny A. Allen, Ellen Clare Garland, Rebecca A. Dunlop, Michael J. Noad
Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences 2018 vol. 285
Culturally transmitted song exchange between humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) in the southeast Atlantic and southwest Indian Ocean basins Melinda L Rekdahl, Ellen Clare Garland, Gabriella A Carvajal, Carissa D. King, Tim Collins, Yvette Razafindrakoto, Howard Rosenbaum
Royal Society Open Science 2018 vol. 5
Using agent-based models to understand the role of individuals in the song evolution of humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) Michael Mcloughlin, Ellen Clare Garland, Simon Ingram, Alexis Kirke, Michael J Noad, Luke Edward Rendell, Eduardo Miranda
Music & Science 2018 vol. 1
Song hybridization events during revolutionary song change provide insights into cultural transmission in humpback whales Ellen Clare Garland, Luke Edward Rendell, M. Michael Poole, Michael J. Noad
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 2017 vol. 114 pp. 7822-7829
Southeastern Pacific humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) and their breeding grounds  Javier Ona, Ellen Clare Garland, Judith Denkinger
Marine Mammal Science 2017 vol. 33 pp. 219-235
The devil is in the detail Ellen Clare Garland, Luke Edward Rendell, Matthew Lilley, M. Michael Poole, Jenny Allen, Michael J. Noad
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2017 vol. 142 pp. 460-472
Using self-organizing maps to classify humpback whale song units and quantify their similarity Jenny A. Allen, Anita Murray, Michael J. Noad, Rebecca A. Dunlop, Ellen Clare Garland
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2017 vol. 142 pp. 1943-1952
Acoustic sequences in non-human animals Arik Kershenbaum, Dan Blumstein, Marie Roch, Çaglar Akçay, Gregory Backus, Mark A. Bee, Kirsten Bohn, Yan Cao, Gerald Carter, Michael Coen, Stacy Lynn De Ruiter, Laurance Doyle, Shimon Edelman, Ramon Ferrer-i-Cancho, Todd M. Freeberg, Ellen Clare Garland, Morgan Gustison, Heidi E. Harley, Chloé Huetz, Melissa Hughes, Julia Hyland Bruno, Amiyaal Ilany, Dezhe Z. Jin, Michael Johnson, Chenghui Ju, Jeremy Karnowski, Bernard Lohr, Marta Manser, Brenda McCowan, Eduardo Mercado III, Peter M. Narins, Alex Piel, Megan Rice, Roberta Salmi, Kazutoshi Sasahara, Laela Sayigh, Yu Shiu, Charles Taylor, Edgar E. Vallejo, Sara Waller, Veronica Zamora-Gutierrez
Biological Reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 2016 vol. 91 pp. 13-52
Adapting a computational multi agent model for humpback whale song research for use as a tool for algorithmic composition Michael Mcloughlin, Simon Ingram, Luke Edward Rendell, Alexis Kirke, Ellen Clare Garland, Michael Noad, Eduardo Miranda
2016 pp. 274-280
Management of acoustic metadata for bioacoustics Marie Roch, Heidi Batchelor, Simone Baumann-Pickering, Catherine Berchok, Danielle Cholewiak, Ei Fujioka, Ellen Clare Garland, Sean Herbert, John Hildebrand, Erin Oleson, Sofie Van Parijs, Denise Risch, Ana Širović, Melissa Soldevilla
Ecological Informatics 2016 vol. 31 pp. 122-136
Beluga whale (Delphinapterus leucas) vocalizations and call classification from the eastern Beaufort Sea population Ellen Clare Garland, Manuel Castellote, Catherine Berchok
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2015 vol. 137 pp. 3054-3067
Non-song social call bouts of migrating humpback whales Melinda Rekdahl, Rebecca Dunlop, Anne Goldizen, Ellen Clare Garland, Nicoletta Biassoni, Patrick Miller, Michael Noad
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2015 vol. 137 pp. 3042-3053
Population structure of humpback whales in the western and central South Pacific Ocean as determined by vocal exchange among populations Ellen Clare Garland, Anne W. Goldizen, Matthew S. Lilley, Melinda L. Rekdahl, Claire Garrigue, Rochelle Constantine, Nan Daeschler Hauser, M. Michael Poole, Jooke Robbins, Michael J. Noad
Conservation Biology 2015 vol. 29 pp. 1198-1207
Quantifying similarity in animal vocal sequences Arik Kershenbaum, Ellen Clare Garland
Methods in Ecology and Evolution 2015 vol. 6 pp. 1452-1461
Humpback whale song on the southern ocean feeding grounds Ellen Clare Garland, Jason Gedamke, Melinda L. Rekdahl, Michael J. Noad, Claire Garrigue, Nick Gales
PLoS One 2013 vol. 8
Quantifying humpback whale song sequences to understand the dynamics of song exchange at the ocean basin scale Ellen Clare Garland, Michael J. Noad, Anne W. Goldizen, Matthew S. Lilley, Melinda L. Rekdahl, Claire Garrigue, Rochelle Constantine, Nan Daeschler Hauser, M. Michael Poole, Jooke Robbins
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America 2013 vol. 133 pp. 560-569
Improved versions of the Levenshtein distance method for comparing sequence information in animals' vocalisations Ellen Clare Garland, Matthew S. Lilley, Anne W. Goldizen, Melinda L. Rekdahl, Claire Garrigue, Michael J. Noad
Behaviour 2012 vol. 149 pp. 1413-1441
Dynamic horizontal cultural transmission of humpback whale song at the ocean basin scale Ellen Clare Garland, Anne W. Goldizen, Melinda L. Rekdahl, Rochelle Constantine, Claire Garrigue, Nan Daeschler Hauser, M. Michael Poole, Jooke Robbins, Michael J. Noad
Current Biology 2011 vol. 21 pp. 687-691


The Secretary
Scottish Oceans Institute
Institiud Chuantan na h-Alba
Gatty Marine Laboratory
East Sands St Andrews
KY16 8LB

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