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Dr Julie Kern

Dr Julie Kern

Dr Julie Kern
PhD, MSc, BSc (Hons)

Research Collaborator

Area of research

Flexible receiver responses to vocal communication

Life Sciences Building,
24 Tyndall Avenue, Bristol BS8 1TQ
(See a map)


My research interests lie in the behavioural ecology and evolution of social species, with particular emphasis on the means by which social interactions and vocal communication regulate cooperative behaviour in animal groups.


 Aim: to explore flexibility in the response of individuals to social information, depending on caller identity.


I will investigate this in different calling contexts, using a combination of observational data, sound recordings and experimental manipulations.


For each call type, I will first establish the presence of acoustic differences between callers, using sound recording and acoustic analysis. Secondly, I will conduct playback experiments to test variation in response to several caller classes, e.g. dominant vs subordinate. Thirdly, I will employ a mechanistic approach to explore why such differences exist, investigating the assorted cost-benefit trade-offs.


1: Sentinel calling.



(i) Individuals will be less vigilant when foraging in the presence of a dominant than subordinate sentinel as dominance is usually correlated with age, and thus probably experience.

(ii) Forager decisions will relate to the perceived reliability of information.


2. Mobbing calls.



(i) Individuals will increase investment in response to mobbing calls of strongly affiliated vs weakly affiliated group mates.

(ii) Mobbing investment will decrease in the face of a reduction in perceived reliability.


This study will take place at the Dwarf Mongoose Research Project, on a wild population of cooperatively breeding dwarf mongooses (Helogale parvula).


For more information see the project website







2012 – 2016, PhD in Zoology, University of Bristol. Thesis title: “Flexible receiver responses to anti-predator vocalisations in dwarf mongooses”, supervisor Professor Andy Radford.

2011 – 2012, MSc in Zoology, University of Bristol. Thesis title: “Decision making by dwarf mongoose (Helogale parvula) sentinels”, supervisor Dr Andy Radford.

2006 – 2009, 1st class BSc (Hons) in Zoology, University of Bristol 


Activities / Findings

My research aims to advance our understanding of the role played by vocal communication in the behavioural choices of social species, providing novel evidence for the importance of behavioural flexibility in light of varying information. Using detailed behavioural observations, acoustic and social network analyses, and a variety of field-based experiments, I investigate variable receiver responses in a wild but habituated population of dwarf mongooses. I am interested in the influence of caller identity and reliability, and social bond strength between signallers and receivers. I am also investigating the effect of situational variability on signal response, including fluctuations in background risk, individual satiation, and groupmate behaviour, alongside the impacts of anthropogenic noise.


  • Dwarf mongooses
  • Vocal communication
  • Sentinel behaviour
  • Anti-predator behaviour
  • Social information


  • Behavioural observations
  • Vocal recordings
  • Acoustic analysis
  • Playback experiments

Recent publications

View complete publications list in the University of Bristol publications system

Networks & contacts

  • Dr Andy Radford

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