Yen Yi Loo

BSc(Hons) Environmental Science (Nottingham University, Malaysia); MSc Bird Conservation (Manchester Metropolitan University, UK)

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Doctoral Candidate - Doctor of Philosophy


I am a PhD candidate investigating the vocal learning ability of a New Zealand wren, the rifleman or tītipounamu (Acanthisitta chloris). I use bioacoustic techniques and behaviour observations to understand the evolutionary history of vocal learning in birds. Songbirds have long been used as a model for the human language learning system. However, the literature focuses on the mechanism and less so on the evolutionary aspects of vocal learning. My research seeks to trigger more research interest in the unexplored aspects of vocal learning integrating knowledge from both the oscines and suboscines.

I also have a background in ecology and environmental science prior to my current position. My skillset includes GIS, statistics, and acoustic analyses. My Masters research in Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) looked at the partial migration patterns of three south American tyrant-flycatchers using citizen science data and species distribution modelling techniques. My Honors research in Nottingham University (Malaysia) was on the diversity of birds in plantations in a peatland habitat. I developed my interest in ornithology through a lot of reading and observing birds in Malaysia and while travelling. 

Research | Current

Understanding the origin of vocal learning in birds using New Zealand’s missing link, the rifleman or tītipounamu.

The recent, dramatic re-ordering of the avian phylogenetic tree has challenged many past assumptions on the evolutionary histories of birds. Among the most interesting is the evolution of vocal learning, which is thought to have evolved independently in parrots and songbirds. However, in the new avian family tree, parrots and songbirds share a common ancestor. This has generated a new, alternative hypothesis indicating that vocal learning evolved in the common ancestor of parrots and songbirds. A key group for addressing this question is the New Zealand wrens. For decades they were assumed to be non-learners. However, in the new phylogeny they are the common link between the parrots and songbirds. This unique position of the NZ wrens as the only extant members of the most basal passerine in the world suggests that a deep investigation of the vocal learning abilities of these species is required. To date, the knowledge of vocal learning in this group has been largely unexplored. I am studying the vocal learning ability of the tītipounamu, one of the two extant species in the NZ wren family. I will quantify the tītipounamu vocal developmental patterns, sex differences in vocal parameters, functions of calls, and female preferences of vocalisations; and in doing so generate more questions about the evolution of vocal learning in birds.

Postgraduate supervision

My supervisors:

Dr. Kristal Cain

Dr. Margaret Stanley


Demonstrator - BIOSCI 337: Animal Behaviour

Selected publications and creative works (Research Outputs)

  • Tan, C. K. W., Lee, J. W., Hii, A., Loo, Y. Y., Campos-Arceiz, A., & MacDonald, D. W. (2018). The effect of using games in teaching conservation. PeerJ, 6.10.7717/peerj.4509
  • Lim, T. W., Quinton, D. P., Solana-Mena, A., Loo, Y. Y., Loke, V. P. W., Angah, R., ... Tauhid, C. (2017). Short Notes – Temiar Bird Names. Malayan Nature Journal, Special Edition, 21-24.
  • Loo, Y. Y., Billa, L., & Singh, A. (2015). Effect of climate change on seasonal monsoon in Asia and its impact on the variability of monsoon rainfall in Southeast Asia. Geoscience Frontiers, 6 (6), 817-823. 10.1016/j.gsf.2014.02.009


Contact details

Primary office location

Level 1, Room 110
New Zealand

Social links

Web links