Professor Dianne Brunton
Director of Ecology, Behaviour & Conservation Group
Building 5, Gate 4
Phone: +64 9 4140800 ext 41192
Fax: +64 9 443 9790
My research contributions are in social behaviour and the evolution and ecology of animal communication. This work spans a variety of aspects of animal ecology from sexual selection and mating systems to diseases and morphology. An important central theme is the evolution of song and sexual selection in NZ bellbirds. I was the first to quantify bellbird song and singing behaviour in 2002 and I was able to show that in the NZ bellbird both sexes have distinct dialects and more recently I established that females are the dispersing sex. This research has been extraordinarily productive and resulted in the first ever test of the ‘dear enemy’ hypothesis for female songbirds and a publication in the journal ‘Behavioural Ecology’ – the top behaviour journal. This system provides a unique opportunity to separate genes from memes and understand how song diversity evolves. Specifically my research programme is now seeking to understand how dispersal influences the spread of memes, the establishment of dialects, and the role of cultural evolution in the maintenance of song diversity. This approach underpins my international research collaborations with researchers at Berkeley, Cornell, and Melbourne. Many topics have arisen from this interest in communication and these have been the foundation for PhD and MSc studies, the most significant being published research on the cultural evolution of song dialects in saddleback, the biogeography and phylogenetics of bellbirds, the role of malarial diseases in the evolution and ecology of NZ’s fauna, and olfactory communication in kakapo. Other themes include investigations of endangered species; an area that attracts Postgraduates from around the world and contributes to NZ conservation. My philosophy is to advance knowledge in ecology, behaviour, and conservation by theoretical, experimental, and field research. Evidence of this success can be seen in the many PhD and MSc completions and student co-authored conference presentations and publications.