Dr Jacob C Dunn

Associate Professor in Evolutionary Biology

Faculty:Faculty of Science and Engineering

School:Life Sciences

Location: Cambridge

Areas of Expertise: Animal and environmental biology

Research Supervision:Yes

Jacob is a behavioural ecologist, broadly interested in the biology and evolution of communication systems in humans and other animals (mostly primates). 

jacob.dunn@aru.ac.uk

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Background

Jacob joined the School of Life Sciences as a Senior Lecturer in July 2016 and was promoted to Reader in Evolutionary Biology in 2020. From 2012–2016, he was a Lecturer in the Division of Biological Anthropology at the University of Cambridge.

He originally trained in Zoology at the University of Edinburgh. He then went on to study for an MSc and PhD in Anthropology and Primatology at the University of Barcelona. From 2010–2012, he carried out postdoctoral research at the University of Cambridge.

Over the last few years, Jacob has been carrying out research into primate vocal communication and the evolution of language. His research takes a broad comparative perspective, ranging from detailed descriptions of vocal anatomy, through to recording animal sounds, carrying out playback experiments, and using macroevolutionary analyses to test evolutionary hypotheses.

He collaborates closely with the Fitch Lab in the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna. 

Jacob  is the Principal Investigator of the Primate Evolution and Ecology Research Group and the Director of our Behavioural Ecology Research Group.

Spoken Languages

Spanish

Research interests

  • Bioacoustics
  • Vocal production
  • Evolution of language
  • Sexual selection
  • Phylogenetic comparative methods (macroevolution)
  • Behavioural ecology
  • Functional morphology
  • Eco-physiology
  • Primatology

Areas of research supervision

Jacob welcomes enquiries from prospective PhD students and Postdocs in the areas of his research interests.

PhD Students

2021 – Nora Kopsch, Behavioural Ecology Research Group, School of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (1st Supervisor) – New approaches for improving welfare in zoo-housed primates’.

2021 – Ryan Rothman, Smaers Lab, Department of Anthropology, Stony Brook University, USA (Co-Supervisor).

2020 – Sam Roynolds - Behavioural Ecology Research Group, School of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (Co-Supervisor with Claudia Wascher) – ‘Vocal communication in corvids’

2020 - Sophie Orme, Behavioural Ecology Research Group, School of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (1st Supervisor) – ‘A morpho-functional and biomechanical analysis of the primate knee’

2020 - Jen Muir, Behavioural Ecology Research Group, School of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (1st Supervisor) – ‘The role of non-linear phenomena in the vocal behaviour of titi monkeys (Callicebinae spp.)’

2019 – Fiene Steinbrecher, Behavioural Ecology Research Group, School of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (1st Supervisor) – ‘The effect of the acoustic environment on captive pied tamarins’

2019 – Natalia Maya Lastra, Instituto de Neuroetologia, Universidad Veracruzana (Co-Supervisor) – ‘Morpholoical, acoustic and social mechanisms for male-male competition in primates’

2019 – Gaius de Schmidt, School of Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (Co-Supervisor) ‘Communication and social behaviour in carrion crows (Corvus corone corone)’

2017 – Tainara Sobroza, Grupo de Pesquisas de Mamíferos Amazônicos, Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Brazil (Co-Supervisor) – 'Sounds, Cities and “Sauins”: the effect of acoustic environment on pied tamarin (Saguinus bicolor) (Primates: Callitrichidae) vocal behaviour'

2017 – Denise Hebesberger, Dept. Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (Co-Supervisor) – ‘Benefits of social bonds in horses’

2017 – Max Kerney, Dept. Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (1st Supervisor) – ‘What drove primate brain evolution? An analysis of competing hypotheses’

Completed (2017 – 2020) – Alice Poirier, Dept. Life Sciences, Anglia Ruskin University (Co-Supervisor) – ‘Making sense of scents: primate scent-marking behaviour and semiochemistry’

Completed (2017 – 2020) – Robin Morrison, Dept. Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Cambridge (1st Supervisor) – ‘Cooperation, kinship and territoriality in gorillas’

Completed (2012 – 2016) - Monica Alcocer-Rodríguez, Dept. Psychology, University of Barcelona (1st Supervisor) – ‘Demographic evolution of Alouatta palliata in a forest fragments: migration, relatedness and habitat characteristics’

Completed (2014 – 2016) - Jenna Dittmar, Dept. Archaeology & Anthropology, University of Cambridge (Co-supervisor) – ‘An archaeological examination of human dissection and its role in anatomical education in England from 1600-1900’

Jacob is the Principal Investigator of the Primate Evolution and Ecology Research Group and the Director of our Behavioural Ecology Research Group

Teaching

BSc (Hons) Zoology

BSc (Hons) Animal Behaviour

BSc (Hons) Ecology and Conservation

Qualifications

  • PhD Primate Behavioural Ecology, Universidad de Barcelona
  • MSc Primatology & Anthropology, Universidad de Barcelona
  • BSc (Hons) Zoology, University of Edinburgh

Memberships, editorial boards

  • Affiliated Lecturer in Biological Anthropology – Division of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge
  • Director of the Harrison Collection, Department of Archaeology, University of Cambridge
  • Affiliated Scholar – McDonald Institute for Archaeological Research, University of Cambridge
  • Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna
  • Member – Primate Society of Great Britain, International Primatological Society, Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation, Mexican Primatological Society, IUCN Conservation Assessment and Management Team for Mesoamerican Primates

Research grants, consultancy, knowledge exchange

2022 – 2023 - Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI – Dr Arik Kershenbaum) - Cambridge University - Project title: Artificial intelligence for conservation acoustics - Funding: Accelerate-C2D3 funding call - AI for research and innovation (£15,000).

2022 – 2023 – Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PIs – Dr Liz Kirk, Dr Matt Bristow) – Anglia Ruskin University.

2021 – 2022 – Principal Investigator (Co-PI – Claudia Wascher) - Anglia Ruskin University – Project Title: The impacts of anthropogenic noise on animal welfare and conservation – Funding: QR Funding, Faculty of Life Sciences, ARU (£65,000)

2020 – 2021 - Principal Investigator (Co-Is – Prof. Marta Lahr & Dr Andrew Gillis) - University of Cambridge - Project title: The evolution of speech: insight from variation in primate laryngeal anatomy - Funding: Cambridge Language Sciences Network & Issac Newton Trust (£3,500)

2019 – 2022 - Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PIs – Dr Dannielle Green & Dr Bas Boots) - Anglia Ruskin University - Project title: Developing a carbon capture device based upon sea snake gaseous exchange - Funding: Hydrophis Gas (£340,000)

2019 – 2022 - Principal Investigator - Anglia Ruskin University - Project title: The Harrison collection: curating and digitising a unique database of mammalian larynges - Funding: Rhinology and Laryngology Research Fund (£10,000)

2019 – 2020 - Principal Investigator - Anglia Ruskin University - Project title: The evolution of speech: insight from variation in primate laryngeal anatomy - Funding: Anglia Ruskin University (£66,000)

2018 – 2019 - Principal Investigator - Department of Biology, Anglia Ruskin University - Project title: The evolution of speech: insight from variation in laryngeal anatomy - Funding: Royal Society (£20,000)

2018 – 2020 - Co-Investigator (PI – Tainara Sobroza) - Instituto Nacional de Psquisas da Amazônia - Project title: Sounds, Cities and Sauins: the effect of acoustic environment in the pied tamarin (Saguinus bicolor) (Primates: Callitrichidae) vocal behavior - Collaborators: Adrian Barnett, Marcelo Gordo - Funding: National Geographic ($5,000), Idea Wild (equipment) & International Primatological Society ($1,500)

2017 – 2018 - Principal Investigator - Department of Biology, Anglia Ruskin University - Project title: Married at first sight (TV series) – biological predictors of human attraction - Funding: Channel 4 (£7,500)

2015 – 2016 - Co-Principal Investigator (Co-PI – Dr Peter Walsh) - Division of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge - Project title: Google vs Goodall - Funding: Isaac Newton Trust (£9,000)

2014 – 2016 - Principal Investigator - Division of Biological Anthropology, University of Cambridge - Project title: The importance of play in cognitive evolution - Funding: Cambridge Humanities Research Grants Scheme (£1,420)

2014 – 2016 - Principal Investigator - PrIME Research Group, University of Cambridge - Project title: Coat colour in black howler monkeys (Alouatta caraya): an honest signal of male quality? - Funding: Isaac Newton Trust & University of Cambridge (£12,885)

2012 – 2015 - Principal Investigator - PrIME Research Group, University of Cambridge - Project title: The evolution of speech: insight from variation in primate hyoid morphology - Funding: Isaac Newton Trust & University of Cambridge (£17,187)

Selected recent publications

Publications below are selected papers only – for a full list of please see Google Scholar or ResearchGate.

Nishimura T, Tokuda IT, Miyachi S, Dunn JC, Herbst C, Ishimura K, Kaneko A, Kinoshita Y, Koda H, Saers JP, Imai H, Matsuda T, Larsen ON, Jürgens U, Hirabayashi H, Kojima S, Fitch TW. Evolutionary loss of complexity in human vocal anatomy as an adaptation for speech. 2022. Science.

Dunn JC, Akçay C, Balasubramaniam K, Miller R, Wascher C. Conceptualization, context and comparison are key to understanding the evolution of fear. 2022. Behavioral and Brain Sciences. 

Smaers, J.B., Rothman, R.S., Hudson, D.R., Balanoff, A.M., Beatty, B., Dechmann, D.K.N., deVries, D., Dunn, J.C., Fleagle, J.G., Gilbert, C.C., Goswami, A., Iwaniuk, A.N., Jungers, W., Kerney, M., Ksepka, D.T., Manger, P.R., Mongle, C.S., Rohlf, F.J., Smith, N.A., Soligo, C., Weisbecker, V. & Safi, K. 2021. The evolution of mammalian brain size. Science Advances.

Bowling, D., Hoeschelle, M., Dunn, J.C. 2021. Progress without exclusion in the search for an evolutionary basis of music. Behavioural and Brain Sciences.

Bowling, D. L.*, Dunn, J. C.*, Smaers, J., Garcia, M., Kerney, M., Stewart, A., Hanke, G., Kitchener, A., Handschuhe, S., Dengg, S., Gumpenberger, M., Fitch, W. T. S., 2020. Rapid evolution of the primate larynxPLOS Biology, 18(8), e3000764 - * equal contributions.

Garcia, M.*, Dunn, J. C.*., 2020. No evidence that maximum fundamental frequency reflects selection for signal diminution in bonobosCurrent Biology 29, pp. 732-733 - *equal contributions.

Dunn, J. C., Halenar, L., Davies, T., Cristóbal-Azkarate, J., Fitch, T., Knapp, L., 2015. Evolutionary trade off between vocal tract and testes dimensions in howler monkey, Current Biology, 25, pp. 2839-2844 (cover story).

Recent presentations and conferences

For a full list of papers in preparation and review, research projects and funding, honours and awards, invited lectures, conference participation, popular science papers, etc., please see CV.

Media experience

Jacob is active in scientific outreach and has been interviewed about his research by the media on many occasions – some examples, below:

Print: ScienceBBC NewsNew Scientist – Discover Magazine – New York Times Washington PostThe TelegraphThe Daily Mail – Newsweek – The Independent – The Australian – Reuters – The Conversation – Discover – MotherboardThe OnionSlate- Nature

Audio: BBC Radio 5 liveBBC Radio World Service – BBC Radio Cambridgeshire – BBC Radio 2 News - The Naked ScientistsScientific American

Video: Discovery ChannelCambridge University You Tube Channel – Channel 4