Research Fellows Directory
Dr Vincent Janik
University of St Andrews
I am working in the field of animal communication, specializing in marine mammals. My main research interest is the evolution of complexity in communication systems and how this complexity can affect social interaction. This work takes two different approaches. I investigate environmental constraints that influence the design of vocal communication systems and the underlying cognitive skills required to overcome or circumvent such constraints. Much of this work concentrates on vocal communication in the bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops truncatus). This species combines the ability of vocal learning with complex cognitive skills that exceed those of most other animals. Comparative work focuses on grey and harbour seals as well as other dolphin species.
My group conducts observational and experimental studies on wild and captive marine mammals. Observations are carried out by using underwater microphones that allow us to triangulate where sounds are coming from and what they are. The experimental approach uses playback experiments in which we test our predictions how dolphins should react to the sounds we play if our assumptions about the function of these dolphin calls are correct.
Our work elucidates the complexity of dolphin behaviour and provides important comparative data on the evolution of complex cognition skills. Furthermore, we provide information on how marine organisms react to noise. This helps to assess the impacts of anthropogenic noise, which has been on the increase over the last years and has caused great concern when animals stranded during sonar tests in the ocean. One study carried out by my group has provided a novel acoustic way of keeping seals from feeding on fish farms while minimizing noise pollution and the impact of the signal on other marine live. This method is currently being incorporated into acoustic deterrent devices and makes them more efficient and environmentally friendly.