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1989 …2023

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Personal profile


Martin Whiting is a Professor of Animal Behaviour in the School of Natural Sciences at Macquarie University. He is a behavioural ecologist that works at both the ultimate and proximate levels of animal behaviour. That is, he is interested in how behaviour affects fitness and also, the mechanisms underlying behaviour. His research group uses mostly lizards as a model system, but they also work on frogs and birds. Whiting’s lab has made significant contributions to understanding communication, social behaviour, and cognition in lizards. Whiting uses a combination of field and lab-based approaches to his research.

Research interests

Evolution of sociality

Whiting’s lab currently works on the evolution and maintenance of social behaviour. A big focus is transitions between relatively simple social systems and complex sociality—how these may have evolved—and the mechanisms underpinning them. A good model system to address these issues is the Australian Egernia group of lizards. They are unique because they have a high incidence of family living. At the same time, this group ranges from solitary, promiscuous species to stable family groups in which the adults are highly monogamous. 


Whiting is interested in understanding the role of cognition in fitness, and how the environment and sociality interact in selecting for particular cognitive traits. This work extends beyond lizards to also include frogs and birds. For example, we are starting to work on co-operative problem solving in birds and the relationship between learning and social system. Whiting’s group also studies how the incubation environment and by extension, global warming, affect the learning ability and brains of lizards. Finally, social learning sets the stage for culture. We are starting to investigate how social learning leads to cultural transmission and how information is transmitted and acted upon.

Animal communication

Whiting is interested in the design and information content of animal signals, particularly colour signals, and their role in fitness. For example, he may ask what information a male’s colour signal conveys about their quality to a female or about their competitive ability to a rival male. In the case of lizards, many species frequently have a rich repertoire of dynamic, complex visual signals. We have a long-term project on the evolution of complex, dynamic tail waving in Asian toad-headed agamas. In this systems, we are taking a comparative approach to understanding how elements of courtship and display behaviour have evolved as a result of phylogeny and/or environmental factors.


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