Apostlebirds & Cooperative breeding
My PhD study system, Apostlebirds (Struthidae cinerea), at UNSW Arid Zone Field Station at Fowlers Gap, was an ideal system for studying the interaction of acoustic communication with genetic and social networks. This population of 120+ birds had been monitored since 2004 and all individuals (>500) have been colour-banded and blood sampled.
Apostlebirds are a relatively familiar bird in the Australian bush and outback. These socially living, cooperative birds are extremely vocal (see video) and yet their acoustic communication has not yet been studied. Group composition is highly complex, with groups comprised of both close relatives and unrelated helpers. My project used the genetic framework of the study population to shed light on acoustic communication in the context of this society. Examining the role of genetic and social structure on call repertoire, structure and complexity will provide insight into how vocalisations develop and change over time both within and between birds in different groups, as well as provide insight into how these birds mediate and maintain cooperation.