Dear Colleagues,

My co-authors and I are pleased to announce the publication of our paper in 

Song hybridization events during revolutionary song change provide insights 
into cultural transmission in humpback whales.
Garland, E. C., Rendell, L., Lamoni, L., Poole, M. M. & Noad, M. J. (2017) 
Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of 
America. 114(30), p. 7822-7829. DOI:10.1073/pnas.1621072114

Cultural processes occur in a wide variety of animal taxa, from insects to 
cetaceans. The songs of humpback whales are one of the most striking examples 
of the transmission of a cultural trait and social learning in any nonhuman 
animal. To understand how songs are learned, we investigate rare cases of song 
hybridization, where parts of an existing song are spliced with a new one, 
likely before an individual totally adopts the new song. Song unit sequences 
were extracted from over 9,300 phrases recorded during two song revolutions 
across the South Pacific Ocean, allowing fine-scale analysis of composition and 
sequencing. In hybrid songs the current and new songs were spliced together in 
two specific ways: (i) singers placed a single hybrid phrase, in which content 
from both songs were combined, between the two song types when transitioning 
from one to the other, and/or (ii) singers spliced complete themes from the 
revolutionary song into the current song. Sequence analysis indicated that both 
processes were governed by structural similarity rules. Hybrid phrases or theme 
substitutions occurred at points in the songs where both songs contained 
“similar sounds arranged in a similar pattern.” Songs appear to be learned as 
segments (themes/phrase types), akin to birdsong and human language 
acquisition, and these can be combined in predictable ways if the underlying 
structural pattern is similar. These snapshots of song change provide insights 
into the mechanisms underlying song learning in humpback whales, and 
comparative perspectives on the evolution of human language and culture.

The paper is freely available here:

Kind regards,

Ellen C. Garland, Ph.D.
University Research Fellow
School of Biology
University of St. Andrews
St. Andrews, Fife, KY16 9TH, UK
Ph: +44 (0)7478-649964
Email:<> or<>
Twitter: @_SMRU_
The University of St Andrews is a charity registered in Scotland: No SC013532

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