A provisional schedule can be downloaded here and the timetable here.

This is for information only, subject to change until the publication of the final programme in August 2019.


Sat 31 Aug

Sun 1 Sept

Mon 2 Sept

Tues 3 Sept

Wed 4 Sept

Thurs 5 Sept


Registration 1

Greg Bryant Arik Kershenbaum

Peter Narins

Katharina Riebel 9.15 start
Sex and Size
10:00 -10.30 Coffee Break Coffee Break Coffee Break Coffee Break Coffee Break
10:30-11.00 Rhythm &
Development of
Audition &
Vocal Learning
From Lab to
Field 2
Session 2
11:00-11.30 Welcome
11:30-12.00 Isabelle
11.15 start:


Session 1
Cultural &
Song Variation

Petworth Park

1.30 depart
7.00 return



Strategies of
15:30-16.00 Coffee Break Coffee Break Coffee Break Coffee Break Coffee Break
16:00-16.30 Vocal
Expression of
From Lab to
Field 1
17:30-18.00 Closing

Pizza, drinks, and
hydrophone demo

Poster session
(Wine & Cheese)

free time  
18:30-19.00 Welcome
19:00-20.00 Pub Crawl   Award Ceremony2
and Banquet



Colour codes: Break Assembly Talk session Social event Excursion Plenary


  1. Posters to be put up throughout the conference (hung on Day 1, taken down on Day 6)
  2. Awards will be given for
    • Best sound recording
    • Craziest spectrogram
    • Outstanding poster Sponsored by Taylor and Francis
    • Outstanding talk by early career scientist (PhDs and postdocs) Sponsored by PeerJ



Plenary Speakers

Greg BryantGreg Bryant, UCLA

The evolution of human laughter

9:00am Sunday 1st September

Laughter is a ubiquitous nonverbal affective vocal signal that manifests itself universally across cultures. Human laughter is homologous with play vocalizations across mammalian species, and likely retains this conserved play function. But laughter in humans has unique features as well, suggesting a suite of species-specific communicative functions assimilated with language use and sophisticated social cognition. In this talk I will describe several lines of research from my lab over the last decade exploring the psychoacoustics of laughter, cross-cultural universals and variations in laughter perception, and the role of laughter in everyday conversation. Laughter provides a unique window into human vocal signaling and cooperative behavior, as well as an example of how ancestral communicative behaviors become integrated with later evolving systems.

Greg Bryant is a Professor and Vice Chair in the Department of Communication at the University of California, Los Angeles. Greg is a leading researcher in human vocal communication and social behaviour, including examining the mechanisms and evolutionary underpinnings of laughter, infant directed speech, and vocal communication of emotion. As a pioneer in cross-cultural perception studies, his research often involves large, representative samples of participants from around the world.  

Isabelle CharrierIsabelle Charrier, CNRS

Recognition systems and Social structure in Pinnipeds

11:30am Saturday 31st August

In many species, parents and offspring have developed the ability to vocally identify each other. In bird species, experimental works put in obviousness a strong relationship between individual recognition system and social structure, with recognition systems being more elaborated in species exposed to strong selective pressures (e.g., colonial species vs solitary species). Pinnipeds (seals, fur seals, sea lions and walrus) are an excellent mammalian clade model for comparative studies of individual vocal recognition as their social structures and breeding systems show a great diversity and they use vocalisations in all their social interactions. The study of mother-pup vocal recognition systems demonstrates some clear evidence that pinniped species with the highest selective pressures for mother-pup recognition have developed the most complex recognition system. Indeed, such species show a high index of vocal stereotypy (IVS), a rapid onset of vocal recognition, a multi-parametric vocal signature mainly based on temporal analysis whereas species living in less constraining environments show a moderate to low IVS, a delayed onset of vocal recognition, a multi-parametric signature mainly based on a frequency analysis. Understanding how ecological and social constraints shape communication systems in vertebrates is essential. Our current knowledge on different taxa show that species encountering similar constraints for individual recognition has developed similar communication systems, suggesting common communication rules in Vertebrates.

Isabelle Charrier is a French senior researcher at CNRS (National Center for Scientific Research) co-leader of “Acoustic Communications” the team at the Paris-Saclay Institute of Neuroscience. Isabelle has made an outstanding contribution to the field for marine bioacoustics. She studies vocal communication in a wide range of marine species (pinnipeds, cetaceans and seabirds) with a special focus on Pinnipeds (seal, fur seals, sea lions and walrus).  She is interested in the recognition processes developed by mothers and their offspring, but also the vocal assessment and social communication networks in males. Most of the work involved field experiments and behavioural observations of animals in their natural environment. Isabelle works in different parts of the World (Arctic, Antarctic, Australia, Canada, Greece, Madagascar, USA) and in collaboration with international colleagues. 

Arik KershenbaumArik Kershenbaum Girton College, University of Cambridge

Alien logograms, wolf howls, and dolphin whistles:  Are we looking for information in the right places?

9:00am Monday 2nd September

Understanding animal vocal communication is a research goal that is inextricably linked with our quest for the understanding of the evolution of human language. While making such a connection is understandable, we must not forget that animals have evolved their own communicative strategies for their own fitness benefits, which in general do not include linguistic proficiency. Our desire to see the origins of human language in animal communication can potentially have some unwanted consequences. In particular, while many animals do indeed communicate using a sequence of discrete acoustic symbols (similar to human language), many species encode information in other ways: varying the timing or rhythm of their sounds, or producing a signal consisting of continuous variation, rather than discrete units. Sometimes, our desire to see temporal sequences of discrete symbols prevents us from objectively assessing whether a particular signal is in fact continuous, rather than discrete.

The recent Hollywood blockbuster “Arrival” presented the fictional example of an alien species with a linguistic system that could not be decoded without a radical change of perspective in how we view communicative signals. I am not proposing that animals vocal communication hides a secret language inside an encoding we have not yet considered. Neither am I merely suggesting that our perspective on animal communication must be broadened to consider a wider range of possibilities of information encoding processes. I am suggesting that our very understanding of animal communicative “meaning” should be reconsidered to account for the fact that most animal vocal communication is (unlike language) not evolutionarily optimised for efficient information encoding. Rather, communicative signals represent a trade off between such a wide range of fitness factors, that saying that a particular signal “means” a particular message, may not be the most helpful paradigm for animal vocal researchers.

I will illustrate these ideas with examples from my own work on meaning in wolf howls, and information in dolphin whistles, as well as consideration of the implications for the decoding of alien communicative messages, should we ever receive any.

Arik Kershenbaum is a zoologist, College Lecturer, and Fellow at Girton College, University of Cambridge. Arik’s contributions to the field of sequence analysis have been particularly impactful. He received his PhD at the University of Haifa in Israel, where he studied the complex communication of the rock hyrax, demonstrating the sophisticated syntax of their bird-like songs. He has since concentrated on vocal communication in wolves and dolphins, looking at how their howls and whistles are used to convey specific information about the world around them. After a postdoctoral fellowship at the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis in the USA, Dr Kershenbaum became interested in the less familiar ways that animals encode information in their signals, and what alternatives might exist to the word-sentence approach with which we are familiar from human language. He was Herchel Smith Research Fellow in Zoology at the University of Cambridge, before taking up his position at Girton College. He is also a member of the international board of advisors for, a think tank on the topic of Messaging Extra Terrestrial Intelligence. 

Peter Narins

Peter Narins Departments of Integrative Biology & Physiology, and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, UCLA

The Puerto Rican Coqui: An exemplary model for acoustic communication in noise.

9:00am Tuesday 3rd September

In this talk, I shall discuss the responses of the Puerto Rican Coqui to playbacks of acoustic stimuli and what we can learn from them.  For example, presenting high-level, periodic tones to vocalizing males in their natural habitat results in a clear shift in their calling pattern in that they avoid acoustic overlap with the playback stimulus.  In addition, in response to aperiodic interfering tones, males of this species initiate their calls in the gaps between the interfering tones more often than would be expected by chance alone.  The Coqui also have a remarkable ability to shift their call timing in response to small intensity shifts in the background noise.  Moreover, these animals exhibit several novel adaptations to reduce the potentially deleterious effects of their high-intensity calls on their own auditory system.  Clearly this species represents a remarkable model for understanding acoustic communication in high levels of background noise and deserves widespread conservation efforts (Support: UCLA Acad. Sen. grants).

Peter Narins has carried out pioneering studies in auditory and seismic sensory neuroethology.  He discovered the first example of sexual dimorphism in a vertebrate sensory system.  Moreover, he demonstrated phase-locking in the auditory nerve of amphibians and used it to provide evidence for the extraordinary seismic sensitivity of the amphibian inner ear.  Narins discovered that a highly territorial South American dendrobatid frog uses a combination of acoustic cues (advertisement calls) and visual signals (vocal-sac pulsations) to repel conspecific intruders. He developed a robotic frog to demonstrate that aggressive behaviour can be elicited only when both signals are presented simultaneously (temporal binding) and at particular spatial orientations (spatial binding). Narins and colleagues (a) discovered several Chinese torrent frogs produce and detect calls containing ultrasonic harmonics and that a distantly related Bornean frog communicates entirely in the ultrasonic range; (b) revealed that the functionally blind Namib golden mole relies solely on seismic cues to locate food sources; and more recently (c) demonstrated that the vibrational component alone of a Guyanese frog’s call is sufficient to alter calling behaviour and direct movement of neighbouring vocalizing frogs. Narins’ original, groundbreaking field studies and correlated seismic and auditory physiological investigations have profoundly altered our understanding of how terrestrial vertebrates perceive their world.

Katharina Riebel Katharina Riebel Institute of Biology, Leiden University

Perspectives on female bird song learning  - towards an inclusive study of male and female communication roles

9:00am Wednesday 4th September 

Bird song is a prime example of a culturally transmitted trait. In most song birds, song is learned early in life from conspecific models. Song has long been considered a predominantly male trait: males sing to attract females and females drive the evolution of signal exaggeration by preferring males with ever more complex songs. This view has emphasized the stark sex differences common in some, but not all biogeographic regions and has biased the research on cultural transmission towards male song learning. However, even in species where females do not sing at all, females memorise song when young, and these early experiences shape their adult song preferences. Using our experimental work in zebra finches, a species with non-singing females, I will show how different developmental factors affect female preference development. I will place these empirical insights in the broader context of recent findings and analyses showing that female song not only is widespread but concurrent male and female song the most likely ancestral state. I will discuss the type of questions of interest to future work that aim towards a more inclusive approach studying male and female communication roles in concert.

Katharina Riebel investigates causes and consequences of condition and learning dependent phenotypic variation in sexually selected traits and preference at Leiden University. Her current research interests focus on improving our understanding of developmental processes that contribute to such variation, namely sensory learning and state dependency of choice (full bio to follow).



Vocal communication in Social Networks (Manfred Gahr)
Reviewing how and why animals communicate by sounds within networks, and how constraints and needs related to different ways of group living or different social environments shape vocal communication.

Strategies of information coding (Thierry Aubin & Nicolas Mathevon)
Reviewing several questions related to information coding in acoustic signals, such as: which code for which information, which code for which environment, which code for which social life.

Rhythm and timing in animal vocal communication (Andrea Ravignani & Maxime Garcia)
Providing a common platform for researchers from a range of fields to compare theoretical approaches and methodologies; and discussing and integrating ideas and findings from evolutionary, behavioural and cognitive approaches.

Vocal expression of emotions (Elodie Mandel-Briefer, Céline Tallet, & Avelyne Villain)
Exploring how emotional arousal and valence can be expressed in vocalisations, how this can affect animal welfare monitoring, and how they should be classified.

Analysing acoustic communication - common perspectives across species (Daria Valente & Julia Jenikejew)
Pooling the insights on vocal communication and its analysis in various species, and by doing so provide the first steps on the way to establish a common ground for the approaches and concepts of bioacoustics methods.

From the lab to the field 1&2: integrating bioacoustics and ecoacoustics (Ed Baker, Tomás Rostirolla, & Klaus Riede)
Reviewing the state of the art of ecoacoustics and bioacoustics and proposing greater collaboration between researchers working on single species with those operating on the ecosystem level.

Underwater acoustics: soundscapes across different scales (Frédéric Bertucci & Maria Clara P. Amorim)
Reviewing current aquatic and marine bioacoustics research, focusing on interactions between living organisms and between organisms and their environment in relation to the evolution of underwater ecosystems

Development of audition and vocal learning (Mylene Mariette)
Revealing what acoustic signals developing animals can perceive, including before birth, and exploring the ontogeny of sound production and vocal learning across taxa and environments


Social Events

Welcome Reception

On Saturday 31st August, we are pleased to announce there will be a Welcome Reception for all conference attendees. The entertainment will be provided by Brighton Morris Men. The event will begin at 7pm at Falmer Bar. (Further details to follow.)

Pub Crawl

On Sunday 1st September, there will be a Pub Crawl through Brighton in the evening. Itinerary to follow.

Excursion to Petworth Park - £25 (tickets still available, please contact organisers)

On Tuesday 3rd September, there will be an excursion to beautiful Petworth Park in Sussex. This National Trust property is a 17th century house surrounded by a 700 acre park designed by the famous landscaper, Capability Brown, home to more than 900 fallow deer. There is also a pleasure garden, with a wooded walk. For art lovers, there are paintings by Turner, Van Deck, Reynolds, Titian, and Blake, and classical and neoclassical sculptures. The Park offers a restaurant and coffee shop with a range of options as well as a shop selling gifts.

The trip will be by coach from Falmer Campus from approximately 13:30 on Tuesday and will leave the park at 18:00, with an expected arrival back to campus by 19:00.

The price is £25 per person, including coach travel.

(The organisers cannot be held responsible for any personal accident or damage to personal property during the excursion. The organisers strongly urge participants to ensure they have adequate travel and personal insurance cover before they join the excursion.)

Petworth Park landscape ( © David Reby)

Petworth Park Fallow Deer ( © David Reby)

Petworth Park house ( © National Trust Images/Andrew Butler)

Gala Dinner at the Brighton Metropole Hotel - £48 (SOLD OUT)

On Wednesday 4th September, there will be a Conference Dinner open to all attendees. This dinner will take place at the Brighton Metropole Hotel on the seafront near the i360 and the (pebble) beach.

This will be a three-course meal with an arrival drink, 1/2 bottle of house wine, and a choice of tea or coffee included in the price.