Department of Anthropology, University of Zürich, Zürich, Switzerland
I am a PhD student in Animal Communication. Growing up in a multi-lingual family, I have always been exposed to the diversity and complexity of communication. In high school I studied Latin and Ancient Greek, and became aware of the process by which communication evolves and changes over time. My fascination for this topic was fully unleashed in the 3rd year of my undergraduate degree in Evolutionary Biology, when I conducted a research project on bird song diversity. Since then, I have been fully dedicated to the study of animal communication, with the goal to investigate multiple species and communication systems, thereby achieving a broad understanding of what it means to communicate and how communication evolves. Now, I am part of a large-scale interdisciplinary research effort intended to shed light on language evolution, partly through the investigation of non-human communication systems. By studying animal communication in species closely related to humans (e.g. primates and apes), we can infer the likely forms of communication adopted by our common ancestors, while if we investigate more distantly related species (e.g. birds and cetaceans), we can understand the shared social and environmental pressures driving the evolution of complex communication. Within this framework, killer whales offer a communication system of unparalleled complexity in terms of the number of different sounds they produce, how these vary with geographical location, how these sounds are used to mediate cooperative behaviour, and how this system is learned and culturally transmitted. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work with such a fascinating species, and to increase our chances of eventually decoding a form of communication that might be as complex, and possibly even more spectacular, than human language.
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