Associate Professor Lucy Aplin

ANU College of Science

Areas of expertise

  • Animal Behaviour 310901
  • Cognition 520401
  • Behavioural Ecology 310301

Research interests

My research explores the interactions between cognition, sociality and ecology, mostly in birds. I am especially interested the emergent properties of these interaction- social networks, animal culture and cultural evolution. Recent work has explored the spread of innovation across social and geographic networks, and how cultures change over time in response to social and environmental drivers. Current themes and projects include:

Culture and Cultural Evolution in Birds:

  • Urban cultural ecology in sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacatua galerita)
  • The spread of the bin-opening innovation in sulphur-crested cockatoos (Cacauta galerita)
  • Experimental tests of the drivers of cultural evolution in great tits (Parus major)

Vocal Dialects and Cultural Processes:

  • Social and vocal complexity in monk parakeets (Myiopsitta monachus)
  • Social processes driving vocal convergence and drift in cockatiels (Nymphicus hollandicus)

Social Cognition:

  • Social cognition in social networks of cockatoos (Cacauta galerita)

Comparative studies of the evolution of cognition and culture:

  • Co-evolution of brain size, sociality and life-history in parrots 



I lead the Cognitive and Cultural Ecology (CCE) Group, and head the SERI (ERC StG) project CULTURES ADAPT. Our lab studies cognition and social behaviour, and we are especially interested their interactions and emergent properties, including social cognition, behavioural flexibility and animal culture.

I currently hold joint positions as SNSF Professor at the Institute of Evolutionary Biology and Environmental Studies at the University of Zurich, and as a Senior Lecturer at the Research School of Biology at the Australian National University. 

Previously, I held a Max Planck Research Group Leader Fellowship at the Max Planck Institute of Animal Behaviour (Germany), a Junior Research Fellow at St John's College, University of Oxford (UK), and a visiting research fellow at the Australian Museum. Before that, I studied for my PhD jointly at the Australian National University and the University of Oxford, and did my BSc(Hons) at the Australian National University. 


Researcher's projects

Current grants

2022-2027: $2,333,000 European Research Council Starter Grant (SERI funded), held at the University of Zurich - "CULTURES ADAPT - Animal culture under change: a landscape level analysis of socio-cognitive responses to human impact"

2022-2027: $157,000 Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund - "An innovation arms race between humans and parrots?"

2019-2025: 7mil EUR German DFG Cluster of Excellence - co PI (1 of 25) - "Centre of Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour"

2020-2025: Israeli Science Foundation “From conformity to diversity” -  External Collaborator

2019-2022: $650,000 U.K. Natural Environment Research Council "Ecology of Behavioural Contagion in Natural Systems - Project Partner (1 of 4)

Recent grants

2018-2019: $53,000 National Geographic Exploration Grant - " Extending the limits for animal culture: do wild parrots show cultural traits?

 2019: $10,000 Cultural Evolution Society - "Public education module - Animal Cultures: Core discoveries and new horizons” -  Co-PI (1 of 4)

 2016-2017: $15,000 Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour - "Behavioural flexibility in novel environments"

2014-2017: $700,000 U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council “Social dynamics and social learning in parids” - Co-Investigator


Current student projects

Sofia Bolcato (PhD, 2023 -): Mapping cultural variation through across sites and with novel food experiments: an integration of the ethnographic method

Lisa Fontana (PhD, 2022 -): Experimental and comparative analysis of the cultural intelligence hypothesis in sulphur-crested cockatoos

Simeon Smeele (PhD, 2019 -): Examining the evolution of social and vocal complexity in monk parakeets

Stephen Tyndel (PhD, 2019 -): Social processes affecting vocal convergence and dialect formation in parrots 


Past student projects

Julia Penndorf (PhD, 2018-2022): Social cognition in an urban-dwelling parrot

Michael Chimento (PhD, 2018-2022): Social processes and structures affecting cultural evolution

Sally Vistalli (MsC, 2021): The influence of social learning on finding and selecting nest lining materials in wild tits (parid spp.)

Killiian Gregory (MsC, 2019): Effect of personality on the response of great tits (Parus major) to social perturbation 

Jana Hoersch (MsC, 2018-2019): Approaching the hand that feeds and fleeing the hand that threatens: recognition on humans by animals


Projects and Grants

Grants information is drawn from ARIES. To add or update Projects or Grants information please contact your College Research Office.

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Updated:  21 May 2024 / Responsible Officer:  Director (Research Services Division) / Page Contact:  Researchers