Dr Luke Rendell

Dr Luke Rendell
MASTS Reader in Biology


"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 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
Palmer, KJ, Brookes, K & Rendell, L 2017, 'Categorizing click trains to increase taxonomic precision in echolocation click loggers' Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, vol 142, no. 2, pp. 863-877. DOI: 10.1121/1.4996000

Passive acoustic monitoring (eseentially, listening underwater) is an efficient way to study acoustically active animals but identifyng which species made a call is still a challenge. C-PODs are logging devices that automatically detect echolocation clicks from small toothed whales, but aren't always great at distinguishing between species. We developed a classifier based on a generalized additive model, and by pooling model predictions on individual click trains within acoustic encounters 98% of all trains could ultimately be classified. This method should allow researchers to obtain increased precision in assigning calls to species using these cost-efficient and widely used devices.

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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Recent publications listed in research@st-andrews
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
Botting, JL, van de Waal, E & Rendell, LE 2017, Comparing and Contrasting Primate and Cetacean Culture. in JM Causadias, EH Telzer & NA Gonzales (eds), The Handbook of Culture and Biology: One. Wiley, Hoboken, NJ. DOI: 10.1002/9781119181361.ch5
Cantor, M, Whitehead, H, Gero, S & Rendell, LE 2016, 'Cultural turnover among Galápagos sperm whales' Royal Society Open Science, vol 3, no. 10, 160615. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160615
Mcloughlin, M, Ingram, S, Rendell, LE, Lamoni, LU, Kirke, A, Garland, EC, Noad, M & Miranda, E 2016, Adapting a computational multi agent model for humpback whale song research for use as a tool for algorithmic composition. in R Großmann & G Hajdu (eds), Proceedings SMC 2016. Proceedings of the SMC Conferences, Hochschule für Musik und Theater Hamburg, pp. 274-280, 13th Sound and Music Computing Conference and Summer School, Hamburg, Germany, 31-3 September.
Rendell, LE & Frantzis, A 2016, Mediterranean sperm whales, Physeter macrocephalus: the precarious state of a lost tribe. in G Notarbartolo di Sciara, M Podestà & BE Curry (eds), Mediterranean Marine Mammal Ecology and Conservation. 1st edn, Advances in Marine Biology, vol. 75, Academic Press/Elsevier , pp. 37-74. DOI: 10.1016/bs.amb.2016.08.001
Gero, S & Rendell, LE 2015, Oceanic societies: studying cetaceans with a social network approach. in J Krause, R James, DW Franks & DP Croft (eds), Animal Social Networks. Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 139-149.
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
Whitehead, H & Rendell, LE 2014, The Cultural Lives of Whales and Dolphins. University of Chicago Press, Chicago.
Rendell, L, Simião, S, Brotons, JM, Airoldi, S, Fasano, D & Gannier, A 2014, 'Abundance and movements of sperm whales in the western Mediterranean basin' Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, vol 24, no. S1, pp. 31-40. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2426
Carpinelli, E, Gauffier, P, Verborgh, P, Airoldi, S, David, L, Di-Méglio, N, Cañadas, A, Frantzis, A, Rendell, L, Lewis, T, Mussi, B, Pace, DS & De Stephanis, R 2014, 'Assessing sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) movements within the western Mediterranean Sea through photo-identification' Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems, vol 24, no. S1, pp. 23-30. DOI: 10.1002/aqc.2446
Barkow, J, O'Gorman, R & Rendell, LE 2013, Cultural transmission. in RJ McGee & RL Warms (eds), Theory in Social and Cultural Anthropology: An Encyclopedia. vol. 1, Sage, pp. 154-158.
Rendell, LE, Mesnick, S, Dalebout, M, Burtenshaw, J & Whitehead, H 2012, 'Can Genetic Differences Explain Vocal Dialect Variation in Sperm Whales, Physeter macrocephalus?' Behavior Genetics, vol 42, no. 2, pp. 332-343. DOI: 10.1007/s10519-011-9513-y
Laland, KN, Dean, L, Hoppitt, WJE, Rendell, LE & Webster, MM 2012, Social learning: strategies, mechanisms and models. in TR Zentall & EA Wasserman (eds), The Oxford Handbook of Comparative Cognition. 2 edn, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 832-850.
Mesnick, SL, Taylor, BL, Archer, FI, Martien, KK, Trevino, SE, Hancock-Hanser, BL, Moreno Medina, SC, Pease, VL, Robertson, KM, Straley, JM, Baird, RW, Calambokidis, J, Schorr, GS, Wade, P, Burkanov, V, Lunsford, CR, Rendell, L & Morin, PA 2011, 'Sperm whale population structure in the eastern and central North Pacific inferred by the use of single-nucleotide polymorphisms, microsatellites and mitochondrial DNA' Molecular Ecology Resources, vol 11, pp. 278-298. DOI: 10.1111/j.1755-0998.2010.02973.x
Rendell, LE, Boyd, R, Cownden, D, Enquist, M, Eriksson, K, Feldman, MW, Fogarty, L, Ghirlanda, S, Lillicrap, T & Laland, KN 2010, 'Why Copy Others? Insights from the Social Learning Strategies Tournament' Science, vol 328, no. 5975, pp. 208-213. DOI: 10.1126/science.1184719
Engelhaupt, D, Hoelzel, AR, Nicholson, C, Frantzis, A, Mesnick, S, Gero, S, Whitehead, H, Rendell, LE, Miller, P, De Stefanis, R, Canadas, A, Airoldi, S & Mignucci-Giannoni, AA 2009, 'Female philopatry in coastal basins and male dispersion across the North Atlantic in a highly mobile marine species, the sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus)' Molecular Ecology, vol 18, pp. 4193-4205. DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-294X.2009.04355.x


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

tel: +44 (0) 1334 463472
fax: +44 (0) 1334 463443