Associate Professor Rebecca Dunlop

Associate Professor in Physiology

School of Biological Sciences
Faculty of Science
r.dunlop@uq.edu.au
+61 7 54601 963
+61 7 334 64588

Overview

Originally from Ireland, Rebecca Dunlop completed her BSc (Honours) degree in Environmental Biology followed by her PhD in fish neuroethology, both from The Queen’s University of Belfast. She migrated Australia in 2004 to undertake a post-doc in humpback whale social communication at UQ where the research resulted in a number of highly cited papers, solidifying her international reputation as a leader and expert in large whale communication and social behaviour. She then began lecturing in the School of Veterinary Science in 2010, mainly in animal physiology and moved to the School of Biological Sciences in 2021 to take up a lecturing position in animal behaviour and physiology.

Research

Rebecca'a research interests are in animal physiology, behaviour, and communication. She mainly works on humpback whales, though has worked on bottlenose dolphins, beaked whales, pilot whales, and false killer whales. Her lab focuses on four main research areas: cetacean acoustic communication, hearing, and behaviour; the effects of noise on humpback communication, behaviour, and physiology; humpback whale social behaviour; and endocrine physiology in cetaceans. Her past and current PhD students and honours students all work within these core research areas.

She is, or has been, a P.I in several large collaborative projects aimed at determining the effects of noise on large whale behaviour and hearing in large whales. Understanding underwater noise impacts on marine mammals is a scientific area that is growing due to interest from the Navy, Oil and Gas companies, the vessel industry and from other ocean stakeholders such as whale watching companies.

Her work on social behaviour and reproductive behaviour uses a combination of behavioural and physiological indicators of reproductive status as well as stress and she currently has an endocrinology lab based at Moreton Bay Research Station. She also collaborates with researcher within the school of veterinary science to develop projects on large whale health and disease.

Research Impacts

Rebecca's research attracts large scale international defence and industry funding, with outputs directly guiding international and national policy. Understanding underwater noise impacts on marine mammals is a scientific area, as well as how they hear underwater, is a prolific research area due to interest from the Navy, Oil and Gas companies, the vessel industry, and other ocean stakeholders such as whale watching companies. One of her major projects; the effects of noise on humpback whale behaviour (project BRAHSS) produced a body of work of global significance, which is now being used for the environmental management of marine mammals, and has resulted in invitations to participate in, and speak at, many international meetings on marine mammals and noise. Her outputs are directed at, and being used by, policy makers internationally (BOEM and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Fisheries Department, U.S.) and nationally (the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority, Australia). Her recent project on humpback whale hearing will be used to inform current baleen whale hearing models, ultimately improving current policy on mitigating the effects of increased anthropogenic noise on whale populations.

Qualifications

  • Doctor of Philosophy, Queen's University Belfast
  • Bachelor of Science, Queen's University Belfast

Publications

View all Publications

Supervision

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Available Projects

  • The PhD project will measure if, and how, humpback whale groups change their communication behaviour in the presence of natural noise (wind, singing whales, snapping shrimp), potential predators (killer whales) and anthropogenic noise sources (air guns, large vessels). It also will determine the potential active space of their non-song vocal sounds and surface-generated sounds and model the decrease in this space with various sources of noise to determine the likelihood of signal masking. You will use data already collected on humpback whale responses to conspecific sounds and air gun sounds (project BRAHSS) with a chance to develop your own research proposal and apply for further funding. In addition, you will be part of the HHARC (Hearing in Humpbacks Acoustic Research Collaboration) project field effort (2021 – 2024) to collect further data on humpback responses to ‘tones’ and ‘killer whale sounds’ (Peregian Beach field site). For further information on the field site and earlier studies see previous publications from the group.

    Results will extend our knowledge of the effects of various anthropogenic, and natural, noise sources on large whale communication behaviour. Ultimately, this will help make improvements to ocean policy aimed at mitigating the negative effects of anthropogenic noise on large whales.

  • UQ is leading a new study to the hearing range, and hearing sensitivity, of humpback whales. To do this, ‘tones’ of various frequencies will be played back to humpback whales following on from a previous experiment that found a clear and measurable avoidance response to a 2 kHz tone (Dunlop et al. 2013). Part of this new study will include a ‘positive control’; sounds from killer whales. We expect these sounds to elicit a ‘fear’ response in whales meaning we would expect a clear avoidance respond as soon as they hear them giving us a basis with which to measure the behavioural response to tones. The fact that humpback whales clearly avoided a 2 kHz tone, and this response seemed to be of greater magnitude than was found to the seismic air gun array, may be due to the fact that the 2 kHz tones sounded similar to killer whale sounds. In other words, ‘tones’ and ‘killer whale sounds’ do not sound like conspecific sounds, and may elicit a more ‘fearful’ response.

    The PhD project will compare the behavioural response of humpbacks to tones, killer whale sounds, air guns, and sounds made by conspecifics to test if sound context, familiarity, and ‘meaning’ could explain differences in observed behavioural responses. You will use data already collected on humpback whale responses to conspecific sounds and air gun sounds (project BRAHSS). In addition, you will be part of the HHARC (Hearing in Humpbacks Acoustic Research Collaboration) project field effort (2021 – 2024) to collect further data on humpback responses to ‘tones’ and ‘killer whale sounds’ (Peregian Beach field site).

View all Available Projects

Publications

Book

Book Chapter

  • Erbe, Christine, Dunlop, Rebecca and Dolman, Sarah (2018). Effects of noise on marine mammals. Effects of anthropogenic noise on animals. (pp. 277-309) edited by Hans Slabbekoorn, Robert J. Dooling, Arthur N. Popper and Richard R. Fay. New York, NY, United States: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-8574-6_10

  • Cato, Douglas H., Dunlop, Rebecca A., Noad, Michael J., McCauley, Robert D., Kniest, Eric, Paton, David and Kavanagh, Ailbhe S. (2016). Addressing challenges in studies of behavioral responses of whales to noise. The effects of noise on aquatic life II. (pp. 145-152) edited by Arthur N. Popper and Anthony Hawkins. New York, United States: Springer. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2981-8_17

  • Lewandowski, Jill, Luczkovich, Joseph, Cato, Douglas and Dunlop, Rebecca (2016). Summary report panel 3: Gap analysis from the perspective of animal biology: Results of the panel discussion from the third international conference on the effects of noise on aquatic life. The Effects of Noise on Aquatic Life II. (pp. 1277-1281) edited by Arthur N. Popper and Anthony Hawkins. New York, United States: Springer New York LLC. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2981-8_161

  • Harcourt, Robert, Marsh, Helene, Slip, David, Chilvers, Louise, Noad, Mike and Dunlop, Rebecca (2015). Marine mammals, back from the brink? Contemporary conservation issues. Austral ark: the state of wildlife in Australia and New Zealand. (pp. 322-353) edited by Adam Stow, Norman Maclea and Gregory I. Holwell. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.

Journal Article

Conference Publication

Other Outputs

Grants (Administered at UQ)

PhD and MPhil Supervision

Current Supervision

  • Doctor Philosophy — Principal Advisor

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors:

  • Doctor Philosophy — Associate Advisor

    Other advisors:

Completed Supervision

Possible Research Projects

Note for students: The possible research projects listed on this page may not be comprehensive or up to date. Always feel free to contact the staff for more information, and also with your own research ideas.

  • The PhD project will measure if, and how, humpback whale groups change their communication behaviour in the presence of natural noise (wind, singing whales, snapping shrimp), potential predators (killer whales) and anthropogenic noise sources (air guns, large vessels). It also will determine the potential active space of their non-song vocal sounds and surface-generated sounds and model the decrease in this space with various sources of noise to determine the likelihood of signal masking. You will use data already collected on humpback whale responses to conspecific sounds and air gun sounds (project BRAHSS) with a chance to develop your own research proposal and apply for further funding. In addition, you will be part of the HHARC (Hearing in Humpbacks Acoustic Research Collaboration) project field effort (2021 – 2024) to collect further data on humpback responses to ‘tones’ and ‘killer whale sounds’ (Peregian Beach field site). For further information on the field site and earlier studies see previous publications from the group.

    Results will extend our knowledge of the effects of various anthropogenic, and natural, noise sources on large whale communication behaviour. Ultimately, this will help make improvements to ocean policy aimed at mitigating the negative effects of anthropogenic noise on large whales.

  • UQ is leading a new study to the hearing range, and hearing sensitivity, of humpback whales. To do this, ‘tones’ of various frequencies will be played back to humpback whales following on from a previous experiment that found a clear and measurable avoidance response to a 2 kHz tone (Dunlop et al. 2013). Part of this new study will include a ‘positive control’; sounds from killer whales. We expect these sounds to elicit a ‘fear’ response in whales meaning we would expect a clear avoidance respond as soon as they hear them giving us a basis with which to measure the behavioural response to tones. The fact that humpback whales clearly avoided a 2 kHz tone, and this response seemed to be of greater magnitude than was found to the seismic air gun array, may be due to the fact that the 2 kHz tones sounded similar to killer whale sounds. In other words, ‘tones’ and ‘killer whale sounds’ do not sound like conspecific sounds, and may elicit a more ‘fearful’ response.

    The PhD project will compare the behavioural response of humpbacks to tones, killer whale sounds, air guns, and sounds made by conspecifics to test if sound context, familiarity, and ‘meaning’ could explain differences in observed behavioural responses. You will use data already collected on humpback whale responses to conspecific sounds and air gun sounds (project BRAHSS). In addition, you will be part of the HHARC (Hearing in Humpbacks Acoustic Research Collaboration) project field effort (2021 – 2024) to collect further data on humpback responses to ‘tones’ and ‘killer whale sounds’ (Peregian Beach field site).