We think it is really, really neat that our colleagues at the National Science Foundation are featuring our newly funded project on cultural and genetic evolution in lyrebirds at their exhibit on real-life “Fantastic Beasts and where to find them” at the San Diego ComicCon! — thereby taking public outreach about science to a wonderfully high-profile venue!!! As the NSF folks put it in their description: “The lyrebird is one of Australia’s best-known and most fantastic native birds. These ground-dwelling birds may be poor flyers, but what they lack in aerial ability, they more than make up for with their beautiful plumage and uncanny imitations. Lyrebirds are unmatched in their ability to mimic almost any sound and have been recorded faithfully imitating everything from animals, like koalas and other birds, to man-made sounds, including car alarms, construction noise and even songs.
This ability to first learn and produce a great variety of sounds has many parallels to the ways that humans learn language and other components of our cultures. With support from NSF, Irby Lovette and Aaron Rice of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology — in collaboration with Australian collaborators Anastasia Dalziell from the University of Wollongong and Justin Welbergen from Western Sydney University — are studying lyrebirds to learn more about the basics of human cultural learning and information exchange. By “seeding” a new song into a group of lyrebirds and tracking how it is passed from one lyrebird to another, the researchers aim to better understand what factors are important in cultural learning.”