Lucy Aplin

Group membership

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 Associate Professor 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. 

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 


Recent grants


  • 2022-27: European Research Council Starter Grant (SERI funded, held at the University of Zurich) - $2,333,000: "CULTURES ADAPT - Animal culture under change: a landscape-level analysis of socio-cognitive responses to human impact"
  • 2022-23: Cultural Evolution Society Transformation Fund - $157,000: "An innovation arms-race between humans and parrots?"
  • 2019-25:  German DFG Cluster of Excellence - 7mil EUR - Co PI (1 of 25): "Centre of Advanced Study of Collective Behaviour"
  • 2020-25:  Israeli Science Foundation “From conformity to diversity” -  External Collaborator
  • 2019-22:  U.K. Natural Environment Research Council "Ecology of Behavioural Contagion in Natural Systems - Project Partner (1 of 4)


  • 2018-19: National Geographic Exploration Grant - $53,000: " Extending the limits for animal culture: do wild parrots show cultural traits?"
  • 2019: Cultural Evolution Society "Public education module - Animal Cultures: Core discoveries and new horizons” -  Co-PI (1 of 4)
  • 2016-17:  Association for the Study of Animal Behaviour "Behavioural flexibility in novel environments"
  • 2014-17:  U.K. Biotechnology and Biological Science Research Council “Social dynamics and social learning in parids” - Co-Investigator

Selected publications

For a full list, see my google scholar page


Smeele, SQ, Tyndel, SA, Aplin, LM**, McElreath, MB** (2024) Multilevel bayesian analysis of monk parakeet contact calls shows dialects between European cities. Behavioural Ecology [**joint senior authors]

Vistalli, S, Jager, T, Aplin, LM**, Wild, S** (2023) Tits (Paridae sp.) use social information when locating and choosing nest lining material. Behavioral Ecology and Sociobiology

Wild, S., Alarcon-Nieto, G., Chimento, CM., Aplin, LM. (2023) Manipulating actions: a selective two-option device for cognitive experiments in wild animals. Journal of Animal Ecology 

Penndorf, J., Ewart, KM., Klump, BC., Martin, JM., Aplin. LM. (2023) Social network analysis reveals context-dependent kin relationships in wild sulphur-crested cockatoos, Cacatua galerita. Journal of Animal Ecology 

Aplin, LM. (2022) Primer: Culture in birds. Current Biology 

Klump, BC., Major, RE., Farine, DR., Martin, JM., Aplin, LM. (2022) Is bin-opening in cockatoos leading to an innovation arms race with humans? Current Biology

Chimento M, Barrett, BJ, Kandler, A, Aplin, LM. (2022) Cultural diffusion dynamics depend on behavioural production rules. Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Smeele, SQ, Conde, DA, Baudisch, A, Bruslund, S, Iwaniuk, A, Staerk, J, Wright, TF, Young, AM, McElreath, MB*, Aplin, LM*. Coevolution of brain size and longevity in parrots. Proceedings of the Royal Society B [**joint senior authors]

Wild, S*, Chimento M*, McMahon, K, Farine, DR, Sheldon, B, Aplin LM. (2022) Complex foraging behaviours in wild birds emerge from social learning and recombination of components. Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B

Klump, BC, Martin, JM, Wild, S, Horsch, JK, Major, RE, Aplin LM. (2021) Innovation and geographic spread of a complex foraging culture in an urban parrot. Science

Chimento, CM, Alarcon-Nieto, G, Aplin, LM. (2021) Population turnover facilities cultural selection for efficiency in birds. Current Biology

Cantor, M*, Chimento, M*, Smeele, SQ*, He, P, Papageorgiou, D, Aplin, LM**, Farine, DR**. (2021) Social network architecture and tempo of cumulative cultural evolution. Proceedings of the Royal Society B [*co-first authors, **joint senior authors]

Penndorf, J. & Aplin, LM. (2020) Environmental and life history factors, but not age, influence social learning about food: a meta-analysis. Animal Behaviour

Aplin, LM., Major, R. E., Davis, A., Martin, J. M. (2020) A citizen science approach reveals long-term social network structure in an urban parrot, Cacatua galerita. Journal of Animal Ecology

Cantor, M.*, Aplin, LM.*, Farine, D. R.* (2020) A primer on the relationship between group size and group performance. Animal Behaviour [*authors contributed equally]

Farine, D. R. & Aplin, LM. (2019) Spurious inference when comparing networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116: 16674-16675.

Brakes, P., Dall, S. R. X., Aplin, L. M., et al. (2019) Animal cultures matter for conservation. Science

Aplin, LM. (2019) Culture and cultural evolution in birds: a review of the evidence. Animal Behaviour

Smaldino, P. E.*, Aplin, LM.*, Farine, D. R.* (2018) Do sigmoidal acquisition curves indicate conformity? Scientific Reports [*authors contributed equally]

Somveille, M., Firth, J. A., Aplin, LM., et. al. (2018) Movement and conformity interact to establish local behavioural traditions in animal populations. PLOS Computational Biology

Lefebvre, L. & Aplin, LM. Social learning and Innovation. In: Avian Cognition, Eds. Healy, S., ten Cate, C. J. (Cambridge University Press). Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Aplin, LM., Sheldon, B. C., McElreath R. (2017) Conformity does not perpetuate suboptimal traditions in a wild population of songbirds. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences

Shultz, T. R., Montrey, M., & Aplin, LM. (2017) Modelling the spread of innovation in wild birds. Journal of the Royal Society Interface

Aplin, LM. & Morand-Ferron J. (2017) Stable producer-scrounger dynamics in wild birds: sociability and learning speed covary with scrounging behaviour. Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Aplin, LM. (2016) Understanding the multiple factors governing social learning and the diffusion of innovations. Current Opinions in Behavioral Science

Aplin, LM., Farine, D. R., Morand-Ferron, J., Cockburn, A., Thornton, A., Sheldon, B. C. (2015) Experimentally induced innovations lead to persistent traditions via conformity in wild birds. Nature

Aplin, LM., Farine, D. R., Morand-Ferron, J., Cockburn, A., Thornton, A., Sheldon, B. C. (2015) Counting conformity: evaluating the units of information in frequency-dependent social learning. Animal Behaviour

Aplin, LM., Firth, J. A., Farine, D. R., Voelkl, B., et al. (2015) Consistent individual differences in the social phenotypes of wild great tits, Parus major. Animal Behaviour

Aplin, LM.*, Farine, D. R.*, Mann, R. P., Sheldon, B. C. (2014) Individual-level personalities influence social foraging and collective behaviour in wild birds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B: Biological Sciences, 281: 20141016. [*authors contributed equally].

Aplin, LM. Farine, D. R., Morand-Ferron, J., Cole, E., Cockburn, A., Sheldon, B. C. (2013) Individual personalities predict social behavior in wild networks of great tits, Parus major. Ecology Letters

Aplin, L. M., Sheldon, B. C., Morand-Ferron, J. Milk-bottles revisited: social learning and individual variation in the blue tit, Cyanistes caeruleus. Animal Behaviour

Aplin, LM., Farine, DR., Morand-Ferron, J., Sheldon, B. C. (2012) Social networks predict patch discovery in a wild population of songbirds. Proceedings of the Royal Society B

Aplin, LM. & Cockburn, A. (2012) Ecological selection and sexual dimorphism in the sooty oystercatcher, Haematopus fuliginosus. Austral Ecology


I lecture in:

  • BIOL1003 Evolution, Ecology and Genetics 
  • BIOL3131 Behavioural Ecology
  • BIOL8001 Consulting in Quantative Biology

Supervised students

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