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(s)
Nick A.R. Jones, Mike Webster, Christopher N. Templeton, Stefan Schuster, Luke Rendell (2018) Presence of an audience and consistent interindividual differences affect archerfish shooting behaviour. Animal Behaviour DOI: 10.1016/j.anbehav.2018.04.024

In this study we investigated whether archerfish display any behavioural changes in response to the presence of an audience while using their specialized foraging tactic of spitting precisely aimed jets of water at prey targets. We found that in the presence of another fish, archerfish took longer to shoot, made more orientations (aiming events) per shot, and tended to be closer to the target at the time of shooting. Our results show that archerfish are sensitive to, and adjust their shooting behaviour in response to, the presence of an audience and highlight the importance of social context in this fish species.

Elena Miu, Ned Gulley, Kevin N. Laland & Luke Rendell (2018) Innovation and cumulative culture through tweaks and leaps in online programming contests. Nature Communications volume 9

The ability to build progressively on the achievements of earlier generations is central to human uniqueness, but experimental investigations of this cumulative cultural evolution lack real-world complexity. We studied the dynamics of cumulative culture using a large-scale data set from online collaborative programming competitions run over 14 years. Results showed that cumulative cultural evolution reduces technological diversity over time, as populations focus on refining high-performance solutions. While individual entries borrow from few sources, iterative copying allows populations to integrate ideas from many sources, demonstrating a new form of collective intelligence. Our results imply that maximising technological progress requires accepting high levels of failure.

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

eXTReMe Tracker

source: symbiosis


Recent publications

50  (of 91 published available) for ler4. (source: University of St Andrews PURE)
Please click title of any item for full details.

2019 (26/2)

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 
2019 (17/1)
Marine Ecology Progress Series
vol.609 pp.257-270
2018 (30/1)

(Chapter (peer-reviewed))
Cultural Transmission
Luke Edward Rendell 
2018 (13/6)
Nature Communications
2018 (11)
Animal Behaviour
vol.145 pp.131-140
2018 (7)
Animal Behaviour
vol.141 pp.95-103
2018 (7)
Trends in Cognitive Sciences
vol.22 pp.651-665
(Review article)
Social learning strategies
Rachel Kendal, Neeltje Boogert, Luke Edward Rendell, Kevin Neville Laland, Michael Munro Webster, Patricia Jones 
Keywords: Asocial information, Associative learning theory, Behavioural gambit, Cumulative culture, Metacognition, Social information
2018 (9)
Biology Letters
Tail walking in a bottlenose dolphin community
M. Bossley, A. Steiner, P. Brakes, J. Shrimpton, C. Foster, Luke Edward Rendell 
Keywords: Social learning, Cultural transmission, Cetacean, Bottlenose dolphin
2018 (2)
Ecological Indicators
vol.85 pp.128-136
The challenge of habitat modelling for threatened low density species using heterogeneous data
Ana Maria Canadas, Natacha Aguilar de Soto, M. Aissi, A. Arcangeli, M. Azzolin, A. B-Nagy, G Bearzi, I. Campana, C. Chicote, Cedric Cotte, R. Crosti, L David, A. Di Natale, A. Frantzis, P. Garcia, M. Gazo, R. Gutierrez-Xarxa, D. Holcer, S. Laran, G. Lauriano, T Lewis, A. Moulins, B. Mussi, G. Notarbartolo di Sciara, Simone Panigada, X. Pastor, E. Politi, M. Pulcini, J.A. Raga, Luke Edward Rendell, M. Rosso, P. Tepsich, J. Tomás, M. Tringali, Th. Roger 
Keywords: Cuvier’s beaked whales, Abundance, Distribution, Conservation, Density surface modelling, Correction factor, Mediterranean sea
Music & Science
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 
Keywords: Agent-based model, Humpback whale, Song, Song evolution, Vocal learning
2018 (6)
vol.128 pp.1-15
Whale and dolphin behavioural responses to dead conspecifics
Giovanni Bearzi, Dan Kerem, Nathan B. Furey, Robert L. Pitman, Luke Edward Rendell, Randall R. Reeves 
Keywords: Cetaceans, Epimeletic behaviour, Caregiving behaviour, Comparative thanatology, Grieving
2017 (8)
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
vol.142 pp.863-877

Comparing and Contrasting Primate and Cetacean Culture
Erica van de Waal, Luke Edward Rendell 
2017 (1)
Marine Mammal Science
vol.33 pp.356-364
Insights into Blainville's beaked whale (Mesoplodon densirostris) echolocation ontogeny from recordings of mother-calf pairs
John Durban, Jessica Shaffer, David Moretti, Peter Lloyd Tyack, Luke Edward Rendell 

Scientific Reports
Pollinator importance networks illustrate the crucial value of bees in a highly speciose plant community
Gavin Andrew Ballantyne, Katherine C. R. Baldock, Luke Edward Rendell, Patricia Gillian Willmer 
2017 (2)
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
vol.141 pp.900-907
2017 (9)
Trends in Ecology and Evolution
vol.32 pp.625-626
(Book/Film/Article review)
Social Evolution and the collective brain
Kevin Neville Laland, Luke Edward Rendell 
2017 (25/7)
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
vol.114 pp.7822-7829
2017 (31/7)
Journal of the Acoustical Society of America
vol.142 pp.460-472
The devil is in the detail
Ellen Clare Garland, Luke Edward Rendell, Matthew Lilley, M. Michael Poole, Jenny Allen, Michael J. Noad 
Keywords: Song, Sequence, Cultural evolution, Levenshtein distance, Humpback whale
2016 (31/8)
(Conference contribution)
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 (10)
Royal Society Open Science
2016 (20/1)
Royal Society Open Science
(Chapter (peer-reviewed))
2016 (11)
Ecological Indicators
vol.70 pp.67-76
2015 (13/1)
Nature Communications
Experimental evidence for the co-evolution of hominin tool-making teaching and language
N. T. Uomini, Luke Edward Rendell, Hannah M Lewis, Catharine Penelope Cross, Cara Louise Evans, R. Kearney, I. de la Torre, Andrew Whiten, Kevin Neville Laland 
Keywords: Tool-use, Human evolution, Social transmission, Language evolution
Aquatic Mammals
vol.41 pp.252-255
First Report of Killer Whales Harassing Sperm Whales in the Gulf of Mexico
Amy Whitt, Melody Baran, Maurice Bryson, Luke Edward Rendell 

Nothing in Human Behavior Makes Sense Except in the Light of Culture
Catharine Penelope Cross, Luke Edward Rendell 
Oceanic societies
Shane Gero, Luke Edward Rendell 

The cultural lives of whales and dolphins
Hal Whitehead, Luke Edward Rendell 
Endangered Species Research
vol.23 pp.241-252
2014 (7)
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
vol.24 pp.31-40
Abundance and movements of sperm whales in the western Mediterranean basin
Luke Edward Rendell, S. Simião, J. M. Brotons, S. Airoldi, D. Fasano, A. Gannier 
Keywords: Sperm whale, Mediterranean, Abundance, Movement, Photo-identification
2014 (7)
Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems
vol.24 pp.23-30
Assessing sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) movements within the western Mediterranean Sea through photo-identification
Eva Carpinelli, Pauline Gauffier, Philippe Verborgh, Sabina Airoldi, Léa David, Nathalie Di-Méglio, Ana Maria Canadas, Alexandros Frantzis, Luke Edward Rendell, Tim Lewis, Barbara Mussi, Daniela Silvia Pace, Renaud De Stephanis 
Keywords: Strait of Gibraltar, photo-ID catalogues, Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean sub-population, conservation, data sharing
Behavioral Ecology
vol.25 pp.257-258
2013 (9/9)
Current Biology
vol.23 pp.R736-R740
Cultural memory
Kevin Neville Laland, Luke Edward Rendell 
vol.1 pp.154-158
(Chapter (peer-reviewed))
Cultural transmission
Jery Barkow, Rick O'Gorman, Luke Edward Rendell 
2013 (7/1)
vol.22 pp.153-163
Mid-frequency broadband sounds of Blainville's beaked whales
Darren Talbot, Ian Boyd, Luke Edward Rendell 
2013 (26/4)
vol.340 pp.485-488
Network-Based Diffusion Analysis Reveals Cultural Transmission of Lobtail Feeding in Humpback Whales
Jennifer Allen, Mason Weinrich, Will Hoppitt, Luke Edward Rendell 
Review of General Psychology
vol.16 pp.121-133
Are the new mass media subverting cultural transmission?
Jerome H. Barkow, Rick O'Gorman, Luke Edward Rendell 
Behavior Genetics
vol.42 pp.332-343
Can Genetic Differences Explain Vocal Dialect Variation in Sperm Whales, Physeter macrocephalus?
Luke Edward Rendell, Sarah Mesnick, Merel Dalebout, Jessica Burtenshaw, Hal Whitehead 
2012 (12)
Journal of the Marine Biological Association of the United Kingdom
vol.92 pp.1799-1808
Foraging dives of sperm whales in the north-western Mediterranean Sea
Alexandre Gannier, Estelle Petiau, Violaine Dulau, Luke Edward Rendell 
Keywords: Sperm whale, Foraging, Mediterranean, Acoustics
2012 (11)
Learning and Motivation
vol.43 pp.241-246
Mental time travel, memory and the social learning strategies tournament
Laurel Fogarty, Luke Edward Rendell, Kevin Neville Laland 
International Journal of Primatology
vol.33 pp.1142-1164
Multilevel Societies of Female Sperm Whales (Physeter macrocephalus) in the Atlantic and Pacific: Why Are They So Different?
Hal Whitehead, Ricardo Nuno Antunes, Shane Gero, Sarah N.P. Wong, Daniel Engelhaupt, Luke Edward Rendell 
Keywords: Culture, Oceanography , Sperm whale, Whaling
2012 (18/9)
2012 (2)
Proceedings of the Royal Society of London Series B: Biological Sciences
vol.279 pp.653-662
The evolutionary basis of human social learning
Luke Edward Rendell, Micael Ehn, William John Edward Hoppitt, Kevin Neville Laland 
Advances in Complex Systems
vol.15 pp.1-17
Trends in Cognitive Sciences
vol.15 pp.68-76
Cognitive culture: Theoretical and empirical insights into social learning strategies
Luke Edward Rendell, Laurel Fogarty, William John Edward Hoppitt, Michael Munro Webster, Kevin Neville Laland 
2011 (12/4)
Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society. B, Biological Sciences
vol.366 pp.1118-1128
How copying affects the amount, evenness and persistence of cultural knowledge: insights from the social learning strategies tournament
Luke Edward Rendell, Rob Boyd, Magnus Enquist, Marc Feldman, Laurel Fogarty, Kevin Neville Laland 
2011 (1)
Marine Mammal Science
vol.27 pp.149-166
Individual vocal production in a sperm whale (Physeter macrocephalus) social unit
Tyler M. Schulz, Hal Whitehead, Shane Gero, Luke Edward Rendell 
2011 (4)
Animal Behaviour
vol.81 pp.723-730
Individually distinctive acoustic features in sperm whale codas
Ricardo Nuno Antunes, Tyler Schulz, Shane Gero, Hal Whitehead, Jonathan Charles David Gordon, Luke Edward Rendell 


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