School of Biological and Chemical Sciences

Joseph Cooper


PhD student



Project title: The Role of Accurate Song Learning in Bird Song Communication.  

Summary: As with human speech, birdsong represents an example of communication in which signals are transmitted culturally. In a number of species, these signals are retained with high levels of precision across generations, yet our understanding of the evolutionary mechanisms enforcing this are extremely limited. Through new computational methods, we are able to compare individual song development within and between populations. The Chaffinch (Fringilla coelebs) provides a model system for studying song development, as European and Atlantic Island birds differ greatly in levels of learning precision. In addition, I will test the hypothesis that precise song learning is maintained through function as an indicator of early-life development stress.

• Perform the first cross-population study on repertoire formation during learning plasticity.
• Infer whether wild repertoires can be predicted from the songs of early-singing teachers.
• Compare and relate phenotypic and cultural traits in relation to developmental stress.
• Investigate whether individuals are able to discriminate poorly-learnt song from more prototypical, through playback experiments.
• Model how sexual selection could enforce precision in song learning.


  • Dr Robert Lachlan